Dáil debates

Thursday, 25 May 2006

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


Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

11:00 am

Photo of Peter KellyPeter Kelly (Longford-Roscommon, Fianna Fail)
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An Bord Pleanála will decide if the infrastructure in question is of strategic importance, having regard to criteria which are listed in the Bill. The remit of the board is being expanded to include approvals of railway orders, including those relating to the Luas and metro systems. A specialised consent procedure for major electricity transmission lines is also being provided for. The twin initiatives of the enactment of this legislation and the reform of the judicial procedures, about which I will speak shortly, should achieve significant time and cost savings in delivering major transport projects under Transport 21.

That An Bord Pleanála's decisions are subject to judicial review is as it should be in any democracy. The judicial review of planning decisions is already based on narrow grounds. Such proceedings cannot advance unless substantial grounds have been demonstrated. No appeal can be made from the High Court to the Supreme Court unless the High Court certifies that its decision involves a point of law of exceptional public importance and that it is desirable, in the public interest, that an appeal should be allowed. The time taken by the courts to issue their decisions on judicial reviews has caused frustration for our State agencies as they seek to deliver major transport infrastructure projects. In an effort to tackle this issue, the President of the High Court will introduce new arrangements to improve procedures for such cases, including the designation of specific judges to manage the process. This will build on the precedent set in the commercial court and should have a similar impact on improving case management.

This legislation is necessary to ensure the continued economic development of our country in a sustainable manner. The gaps in Ireland's critical infrastructure pose a real threat to its growth, its environment and the standard of living that its people have quite rightly come to expect. We need 21st century infrastructure now that we are in the 21st century. The Government plans to invest over €43 billion in this country's infrastructure over the next five years. It has committed itself to such expenditure in programmes it has already launched. It is vital that investors and consumers are aware of the timeframe within which projects will be planned and delivered. Every well-publicised delay and risk of delay causes increases in costs for private investors and, ultimately, for taxpayers.

At present, it is normal for major applications for infrastructural projects to be subject to an appeal, even after lengthy consideration at local level. One of the key changes being made to the existing planning regime is that projects will not have to be approved by local authorities in the first instance. Dialogue between developers and An Bord Pleanála will be facilitated. The board will first be asked to decide whether a project qualifies for the new strategic consent process. Such developments must be of strategic economic or social importance to the State or the region in which it is planned that they will be located. They must contribute significantly to the fulfilment of the objectives of the national spatial strategy or the regional planning guidelines, and they must have a significant effect on the area of more than one planning authority.

The Bill protects the right of everyone to participate in the planning process. Under the strategic consent process, An Bord Pleanála will be required to consult the relevant local authorities and have due regard to their comments and those of the elected members of the authorities. There is no point in changing the planning system without amending the judicial process. One of the major challenges faced by major infrastructure projects in the past has been the time delays associated with judicial review challenges. An Bord Pleanála's decisions are subject to judicial review, as they should be in any democracy. It is hoped that, by getting rid of the local authority planning stage and ensuring that a specialised, properly resourced and experienced division within An Bord Pleanála handles applications for strategic projects, the length of time it takes to get development consent, or planning permission, will be reduced. This will not interfere in any way with the obligation to produce an environmental impact statement.

The types of projects stipulated in the legislation include incinerators, landfills, gas terminals, hazardous waste facilities, gas and oil pipelines, large pylon projects, power stations, oil refineries, wind farms, air terminals, sea ports and sewerage plants. It is clear that this legislation will have far-reaching consequences. Contrary to what members of the Green Party would have one believe, public interest groups will be facilitated by being allowed to challenge decisions, even if no direct interest can be shown. This legislation provides for a ten-week period within which local authorities and, more important, local councillors can prepare their views on a proposed development. As it stands, local councillors normally have no direct role in taking decisions on planning applications, other than in setting the policies for their areas in development plans. This Bill will give them a new and specific role, as managers will be required to obtain and forward the views of the elected members of local authorities to the board. I suggest that this is a welcome change from the perspective of local democracy.

This legislation allows An Bord Pleanála to consider additional information, including revised environmental impact statements. An innovative feature of the Bill is that it gives the board the power to hold meetings with relevant stakeholders if it appears to the board that such meetings are necessary. This increase in the board's flexibility in handling disputes should make it possible to achieve better outcomes for everyone.

The board may also choose to grant permission for a project. For example, it is hoped that projects which are unacceptable because of their location or environmental impact will be identified at the informal preplanning stage. If a promoter wishes to pursue a case to the decision stage, the board will be obliged to deal with it. Matters raised during the board's consideration of the final proposal, as well as submissions made on the proposal, will be considered as part of the decision-making process. Before making its decision, the board must also have regard to a wide range of issues, including submissions and objections made by local people and the local authority, as well as the local development plan, the national spatial strategy and the national interest. The board will be able to balance local and national concerns and to make the correct decision for the country.

This Bill will facilitate a more streamlined approach to decision making in respect of strategic infrastructure. It will provide a better service for all stakeholders, namely, infrastructure providers, State bodies and the public alike. This legislation will deliver the correct balance between individual rights and the broader public and national interest. I commend the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, on introducing this legislation to the House.

In the main, the Planning and Development Act will be amended to facilitate the introduction of a strategic consent process for strategic infrastructure of national importance to be provided by other statutory bodies and private promoters. An Bord Pleanála will be restructured to allow for the establishment of a strategic infrastructure division to handle all major infrastructural projects. The types of infrastructure which can be processed by the new division include major environmental, transport and energy related projects. The decision whether a certain project is to be taken under the strategic consent process is a matter in each case for An Bord Pleanála.

The strategic consent process is a key feature which includes the introduction of a one-step strategic consent procedure for certain types of major infrastructure. Moreover, responsibility for deciding on approvals for railway orders, including light rail and metros will be transferred from the Minister for Transport to An Bord Pleanála. The new division will also handle decisions on all major infrastructure projects which are already the responsibility of the board, including major local authority projects and motorways. It will also handle strategic gas infrastructure consents and major electricity transmission lines.

I compliment the manager, chief planning officer and director of services at Longford County Council on the responsible manner in which they have handled the development and planning of the county until the present.

As for planning, people are entitled to live in a good home. I appeal to Members to look sympathetically on planning applications for once-off houses from those who wish to settle down and live with their families. People should be Members' main priority and one should leave one's home in the morning in good form. Members have a duty and an obligation to provide housing for people. People who are prepared to provide it for themselves should be encouraged in every way.

As for the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Bill, there are times when the minority may be obliged to make some sacrifices. It should do so in the interests of the majority. In a democracy, the majority should receive full consideration. I commend the Bill to the House and I again commend the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, as well as the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, who is present in the Chamber.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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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.

Photo of Batt O'KeeffeBatt O'Keeffe (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing, Urban Renewal and Developing Areas, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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He ran from their embraces.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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The Minister of State can dream on. The residents were angry as they felt the planning system let them down and that there has been insufficient quality planning across the north side of Dublin.

Section 13 amends section 104 of principal Act and provides for an increase in the permanent number of ordinary members of An Bord Pleanála from seven to nine. I agree with having nine people. Section 14 amends section 106 of principal Act and provides for the increased membership of An Bord Pleanála to be appointed from a range of organisations which are newly grouped into five panels. The Minister is also given the power to prescribe at least two organisations for each panel. It is important to have quality people involved in this area. We also need honest people whom we can trust on these important planning development issues.

I again emphasise the importance of sensible and quality planning. Another debate is taking place in my constituency about the Dublin Bay project and the attempt to infill 52 acres of the bay, about which many people are concerned. I commend the people involved in the proposal to develop the port at Bremore as a sensible alternative to filling in 52 acres of Dublin Bay. We have enough slots in Dublin Port at the moment. There are some fantastic ideas and plans to develop ports and projects along the east coast, in particular the Bremore proposal. I urge all Deputies to support the development in this regard.

Section 28 amends section 175 of principal Act and enables An Bord Pleanála to approve development carried out by or on behalf of local authorities which requires environmental impact assessment. The section is being amended to permit the board to seek alterations to the proposed development by a local authority, and where necessary to require consultation on any proposed alteration. The board is also being permitted to attach certain types of condition to the proposed development and to require the payment of its costs. This section again deals with the issues of local authorities. I appeal to local authorities not to have the macho attitude that we see in some cases. They should listen to what is being said by the councillors in their local authorities and the concerns raised. We all want to move forward and want quality planning and development. Above all we also want balance in planning.

Section 30 amends section 218 of principal Act to provide that An Bord Pleanála has absolute discretion as to whether to hold an oral hearing relating to compulsory acquisition of land. Oral hearings are very important. It is important to hear the voices of citizens at first hand.

I welcome the opportunity to debate the Bill and I hope the Minister and others involved directly in the planning process will listen to some of the ideas proposed.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)
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This legislation has been introduced because the perception exists that many major planning proposals have been unnecessarily delayed. The Bill is designed to fast track planning proposals. It follows previous legislation from this Government to essentially dismantle people-centred planning. We have had the introduction of fees for those who want to make planning submissions. I know of many residents who make very sensible submissions on planning issues, who are now being charged for doing so. It seems they are being charged illegally as the European Commission takes a different view and has asked the Government not to charge those fees for a submission.

A planning proposal with which I am dealing requires €250 to make an appeal to An Bord Pleanála. Of course that appeal can only be made by a party that had objected in the first place, which represents a further erosion of people's democratic rights. The Government has a poor record on planning. It seems it wants to move the planning process away from people's participation.

Some elements in the Government want to remove themselves from Government decision making in this area. I refer to my constituency colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, who recently circulated a leaflet in the constituency claiming he is opposed to the incinerator for the Poolbeg Peninsula. This is extraordinary as the incinerator is Government policy. Just before Christmas the Government, consisting of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats, approved a public private partnership for the development of the incinerator on the Poolbeg Peninsula. I do not know how he can on the one hand say he is part of the Government and approves of the policy, while on the other hand say he disagrees with the policy. He seems to want to have it both ways. While I am not saying that people in this Chamber are doing that, I am saying that my constituency colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is doing just that. It is quite unprecedented for a Minister to behave in this fashion.

His basic argument is that this is now a mass burn incinerator: of course it is a mass burn incinerator that is proposed for the Poolbeg Peninsula. The Progressive Democrats manifesto for the 2002 general election states the party "would ensure no mass burn incineration", yet a public private partnership is proposed to provide such an incinerator. How can the party approve of such a public private partnership while opposing the development? The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform claims in a leaflet he circulated in the constituency that he "successfully thwarted the proposal to have the project taken away from An Bord Pleanála and handed over to a fast-track infrastructural board". That is a reference to this legislation.

It is extraordinary that the Minister could have achieved this. He says he has used his ministerial office to influence his Cabinet colleagues but despite tabling numerous parliamentary questions, I have not been provided with details of his representations on this. I do not know how he did it. If Dublin City Council wishes, it can wait until we pass the legislation to process the planning application for the incinerator. Nothing can prevent the council from doing this but there is little difference between undertaking a public private partnership, which must be referred to An Bord Pleanála, and the process provided for in the legislation, which provides for the making of applications directly to the board. There is no profound difference and, therefore, the Minister's claim is bogus.

When people accuse others of making a political football out of an issues such as this, they need to be careful as they are standing in a glasshouse. Clearly, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has made the incinerator project a major issue. He said this would be a major plank of his election campaign and that he would put manners on Fianna Fáil in Government.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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Somebody should put manners on him.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)
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The Minister, Deputy McDowell, has capitulated completely to Fianna Fáil and its policy of building incinerators all over the country and, in particular, in our constituency, where it is proposed to build Europe's largest incinerator, which is expected to process 600,000 tonnes or more of waste annually. The desire to fast-track the legislation bodes poorly for the future because monitoring of its implementation is not ensured. The largest sewage treatment plant in Europe, which was supported by local residents, is located in my constituency but the developers made a mess of it. The odours in the area are appalling. While the legislation provides for fast-tracking of projects, it does not provide for transparency and accountability.

When planning applications are heard by An Bord Pleanála, one can have all the good reasons one likes for opposing a development but if it is Government policy, the objections will be forgotten. During the appeal on the Ringaskiddy toxic incinerator, the inspector gave 14 reasons it should not proceed but the board overruled him. That is neither good planning nor democratic. It smacks of a dictatorship where one railroads one's proposals through and that is the basis for the legislation.

I am concerned about Schedule 7, which refers to "a thermal power station or other combustion installation with a total energy output of 300 MW or more". I would like the Government to amend this provision by inserting the words "excluding nuclear power". Legislation, which was amended on foot of a Green Party proposal, is in place to prevent the construction of a nuclear power station but I am not convinced by recent statements by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The Minister, the Taoiseach and others have been completely over the top in their statements about nuclear power recently. "Methinks they doth protest too much" because they have said such power is horrific. If they believe that, they should accept my proposed amendment. The last thing we need is the fast-tracking of a nuclear power station.

Photo of John McGuinnessJohn McGuinness (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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While I do not defend the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, being a member of a political party does not put one in a strait-jacket. One is entitled to one's point of view.

Photo of Olivia MitchellOlivia Mitchell (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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Particularly in the Deputy's case.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)
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The Deputy knows all about that.

Photo of John McGuinnessJohn McGuinness (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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The Minister is fond of expressing his opinion on a regular basis, whether we agree with him. I have my point of view which I am not afraid to express. One is not put in a strait-jacket when one joins a political party as one can express one's point of view.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)
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The Deputy should express his.

Photo of John McGuinnessJohn McGuinness (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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Thereafter one follows the Whip, which the Deputy also does. He will do so when his party decides whether it will go into government following the next election. The Deputy is hedging his bets and other members of his party have differing opinions about coalition.

This is not the first time I have followed Deputy Finian McGrath in a debate during which he has focused on corruption and social housing. Fianna Fáil Governments have built a significant number of social housing schemes since the late 1940s. The previous Government introduced many Bills that have made politicians so transparent that we rightly stand out from everybody else. However, not every public representative should be painted with the corruption brush. The vast majority of Members and councillors are decent and honourable men and women who have not encountered corruption or a brown envelope and they should be spoken of highly because they make a positive and significant contribution to public life.

We have experienced significant economic growth and prosperity over the past ten years. I come from a business background and I never believed growth would accelerate at the pace it has, given that in the 1980s I was paying interest at 22%. However, we are now at full employment. The delivery of infrastructure is being challenged by new dynamics within the economy. Greater demands than ever are being made to provide for the increasing number of people in the State who are developing businesses and getting on with their lives. That presents new challenges and this legislation provides for a proper planning and development system on which we can rely. While I have confidence in the current planning system, it is archaic and is creaking under the pressure of development and developers. Sometimes it delivers decisions and, no matter what, they are referred to An Bord Pleanála. As a result, much needed projects are delayed by between six and nine months. That is a significant issue when trying to deliver infrastructure on time. We must keep up to speed in delivering what is necessary for the citizens we represent.

The national spatial strategy is often criticised, but I support it. It makes sense, but we need to see some tangible benefits. The delivery of infrastructure in the regions would be an example of such benefits. Communities are under pressure as people must combine work with a quality of life. They suffer the stresses and strains of trying to pay mortgages, child minders, going to work and making time for their families. The infrastructural projects that are needed but are being held up are those that will be dealt with by this Bill.

However, there are currently issues with the planning process for large projects. We can learn from what happened in previous projects, which sometimes caused cynicism among the public due to poor delivery or no delivery at all. For 30 years, we debated the provision of an inner relief road in my constituency. There was much opposition from local communities because the plans were developed in a poor fashion by the local authorities concerned. There was very poor consultation and the local authority pretty much acknowledged that it was the only stakeholder and that communities should be pleased it was being delivered rather than having access to the process itself. Rather than continuing with the existing planning process and honouring a commitment given to local borough council members that it would be discussed and voted on, the executive decided to opt for an environmental impact study. That is a method of bypassing the process of debate with local public representatives. That decision has left communities frustrated with the current system. That particular project should be examined and lessons should be learned from it. I agree with business leaders and the local communities in Kilkenny that the project is much needed. It should be planned with all of the stakeholders involved, especially the public representatives.

We could also learn from the project to construct the Piltown-Fiddown bypass, a 9.3 km stretch of road in County Kilkenny and an essential piece of infrastructure. When it was delivered, it caused friction within the local community, which felt it was excluded from the process. It resulted in further funding being delivered to the county last year for a two-plus-one road system to deal with the problems arising from the original project. The original contract cost around €13.5 million, yet it doubled in cost before it was completed. When I raised the issue on behalf of the communities, legal action was threatened in 2001. I presume this is the method of muzzling public representatives and this gives us an idea of how local authorities defend themselves. I was right in the end as it was a poor design and it cost millions of euro extra. It resulted in the deaths of seven people. During that process, a public official acknowledged that people would die on the road. While this was acknowledged in correspondence, no action was taken. That is a deplorable process in our local authorities. The residents in Rathmore Road and Tower Road in Piltown complain about being excluded from the current process and not having their common-sense suggestions taken on board to protect their quality of life, while acknowledging that the decisions taken are normally based on the idea of the lesser evil for the greater good. They are willing to participate, yet they are excluded. The local authority is firmly to blame for this because the process is in its hands. The authority should allow the other stakeholders to participate, such as the NRA and the local community.

It is time for an independent investigation into what happened in the delivery of that project and what is happening to the project that is currently being funded for that road. An intervention by the Minister would represent good practice and would restore public confidence in the planning system in Kilkenny. Too many accidents and fatalities have occurred on that road, yet public representatives are asked to stand aside. I attempted to raise such an issue in this House in the past two weeks, but I was not allowed to do so. Such a decision is indicative of the distance that is being put between public representatives in this Parliament and the citizens we represent. It is not good enough for any Government to stand over that type of record. The Minister should intervene to find out what will happen to this project, because I have no doubt it will arise in the Committee of Public Accounts.

I welcome the Minister's statement on the inclusion of public representatives and their views in the group to examine projects under this Bill. For far too long, councillors have been left outside the loop. In some cases, they have been asked to pay for the reports that have been made available to local public representatives. That shows why the decision to end the dual mandate was nonsense. There are times when we get it wrong in this House and in that legislation, we created a disconnection between central government, local government and the people we represent. There is a unique contact between Members of this Parliament and citizens that has been maintained since the foundation of the State. The decision to end the dual mandate ended that unique approach. It cut off a knowledge base that was available to Members heretofore and that worked. If it worked, we should not have intervened. We will continue to pay for that deficit of knowledge in the future.

In cases like this, legislation should be reviewed and public representatives from this House should be included in the planning process. While I welcome the opening of that door to local public representatives, an amendment should be tabled to the Bill to allow Members of this House to put their views on large-scale projects before county managers for inclusion in any report. That would be of benefit to the system and to this Bill. Communities have gained from the integrated area plans currently coming to fruition, such as the railway station site in Kilkenny. Community gain is often paid lip-service but that scheme has to be signed off in the context of tax exemptions. We need to protect community gains through legislation so there will be tangible results for the communities affected by projects. The local authority waste management schemes, in which funds created from dumped waste go to various local projects, are effective in that respect. We should support the notion of community gain.

A pre-planning consultation process is essential. During the course of the current planning process, clients are offered opportunities to discuss pre-planning issues arising from their applications. Pre-planning consultations will streamline the system, ensure projects qualify and address issues which subsequently arise.

I am glad the Bill deals with rogue developers but it is a pity we cannot address this issue through the normal planning process. It has been suggested that planning permission could be withheld from rogue developers who have a history of non-compliance. That should be the case with regard to unfinished housing estates, which the Minister referred to in his introduction to the Bill, because too many developers have obtained planning permission despite previously leaving local communities to deal with unfinished estates. Although the enforcement sections of local authorities are now being given more resources, it remains difficult for them to track rogue developers through the legal system. Developers who take advantage of legal loopholes and delays do nothing but add to the frustration and anger of the citizens who must live in these estates. It would be a good idea to refuse planning permission to rogue developers until their other developments are completed but if this measure is to be provided for in the Bill, I would like the resources made available to enforce it. It is essential that adequate resources and personnel are part and parcel of any legislation passing through this House so proper enforcement can be ensured. An imbalance has existed for many years whereby local authorities, and now the new planning board, do not have the resources to deal with rogue developers.

The demands put on An Bord Pleanála by large numbers of planning applications suggest the need to re-examine its functions. Too often, field officers make a recommendation only to be overturned by board members, a situation which has been criticised by the general public and elected representatives. The board will need an extra degree of independence in order that its decisions are transparent and stand up to scrutiny. It is not acceptable that applicants have to wait six months or longer for a decision, particularly where the delay arises from difficulties in finding personnel who are capable of dealing with projects coming before the board. We have to ensure that any new special section is adequately resourced and contains the range of skills necessary to address these important issues.

I conclude by again calling for an independent inquiry into the issues arising from the Piltown-Fiddown bypass.

12:00 pm

Photo of Olivia MitchellOlivia Mitchell (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important Bill. The Fine Gael Party supports the Bill in principle, although we intend to table a number of amendments. A number of Deputies described the Bill as a means of fast-tracking or rushing the planning process. I hope that will not be the case because planning should not be rushed but should be measured, considered and subjected to as much public scrutiny and participation as possible. This Bill should try to bring clarity and certainty to the planning process and allow promoters, developers and investors, whether public or private, to estimate how long it will take to bring a project from conception to construction. That is a reasonable expectation for anybody who invests a lot of money in a project.

Some sort of closure is needed in the planning process because, in the past, the timescales for many projects have been open-ended. For that reason, I support the Bill. Past projects have gone through endless appeals processes, only to end up in long-running court cases and, often, in Europe. Political failures are largely to blame for this problem, in that processes are not pushed to their limits for political reasons or because politicians hope objections will die away if they ignore an issue. However, trust in the system is further eroded when issues are ignored. Deputy McGrath remarked on the need to restore confidence and trust in the planning process and, while I do not often agree with the Deputy, I do in this instance. Trust will only be restored by bringing transparency to the process.

The Bill's provision for a planning consent procedure represents a reasonable approach to the matter. However, as my colleague, Deputy O'Dowd, has mentioned, safeguards are essential. By trying to create an absolute timeframe, the Bill could be accused of riding roughshod over the legitimate interests of local objectors, be they residents or businesses. The board must have regard for the national interest when it considers planning applications. A proper balance must be found because the danger might otherwise arise that the board will unreasonably override local interests.

Nevertheless, once a project is accepted into this special process, which by definition classifies it as an important piece of strategic infrastructure, it automatically increases its odds of getting planning permission. It will almost inevitably succeed. The key is who makes the decision to designate a project as strategic. The Bill provides that An Bord Pleanála makes that decision. It is fine to decide that a project is strategic. However, a strategic project is not necessarily good, worthwhile or in the national interest. That is where we may encounter difficulties. There have been energy projects that were seen as national strategic infrastructure and would have been wonderful projects if they worked, but they had little chance of working. The danger is that by lifting them into a higher area of planning they may slip through the vetting process.

A pre-planning vetting process is needed to ensure projects are subject to a cost-benefit analysis to see if they are in the national interest. Big State projects such as the metro and the interconnector, which could go through this process, would be subject to a cost-benefit analysis and alternatives would hopefully be examined before one is selected. I do not know if the Minister can clarify this. Suppose a private developer wants to build a second or third airport in Dublin. Although that would be strategic infrastructure, would it be in the national interest? Who would decide? These are the pitfalls.

In shortening the process to one step there is a greater need for transparency and the dissemination of information to people who will be affected by the project. Under the current planning system, despite little notices being put up at sites, people too often miss the planning process. When there has been much discussion and media coverage of a project it seems impossible to miss, yet somehow the people most affected by it never hear about it. Putting notices on the site and in the paper is not enough for an extension to a semi-detached house or for major projects. I am thinking of a major project in my constituency, the extension of the Luas. Although the public inquiry has taken place and the inspector has made his report to the Minister, I still receive letters from people asking if they can change the route. They have missed that this important process has taken place and they have not been party to it. There is a serious need to get information to the public. People think this has been rushed through and they were not told, and they are right to a certain extent. There must be a new way to inform the people directly affected about what is planned for their area so they can have their say. Before public hearings are planned, local individuals should be notified of the process, whether by advertising or leaflet drops.

While I welcome the notion of pre-planning discussion, transparency is needed in another area. Pre-planning discussions are already taking place at local authority level. Once pre-planning begins and people begin measuring sites with theodolites and tape measures, local rumours immediately begin. People know something is afoot but cannot find out what. Immediately the distrust and lack of confidence surfaces and this brings the planning process into disrepute. While I understand the need for commercial confidentiality, local authorities treat pre-planning like the three secrets of Fatima. The public is entitled to know, in broad terms, that there is something coming down the track because the opportunities for the public to make their representations are tight. Under this new planning consent process the public has six weeks whether it is a house extension or a major project. To object to a technically complex project such as an incinerator or a baling station, people are entitled to more time. It would not dramatically change the overall timescale of a project. Under the legislation councillors are given ten weeks to examine such projects and members of the public, who are probably more significantly affected, should have at least the same amount of time.

I welcome the fact that for the first time the local authority members will have a statutory role in the planning process. I am not sure if the councillors will think so because it will be onerous for them. These will be major projects of strategic importance which will often have a deleterious impact on local residents. Councillors will have to make an objective decision having due regard to the local and national interest. All councillors and public representatives should welcome this.

I note that there is an opportunity for local authorities to recover the costs associated with major planning applications such as this. Given that the application is dealt with by An Bord Pleanála, I wonder what costs it would have. I assume, and perhaps the Minister can clarify this, it is to pay for the great need for independent, objective, expert and out-of-house advice to adjudicate on what will be complex and technical projects. If that is the purpose of allowing local authorities to recover their costs, it is a good measure and will be welcomed.

While I welcome the principle of community gain, I want to issue a caution. It is already used by the private sector in planning applications. Sometimes a real community gain is provided and it works. Sometimes it works in favour of a portion of the community and is divisive because half the community sees the other half as being bought off by developers. We need to clarify in the legislation what we mean by community gain and guarantee it is a genuine, overall gain that benefits the entire area and not just a handful of objectors.

It would be difficult for a public representative not to be interested in this Bill. One of my main interests is its impact on public transport, which is essential. Ireland has been described as a First World economy with a Third World infrastructure. The growing economy is creaking from the lack of infrastructure necessary to keep pace with its demands and the deficit to facilitate future growth. Every year the demand for transport of goods and people grows faster than the ability to meet that demand, resulting in a large and growing deficit. The Exchequer figures for the last four years highlight the fact the Government has failed to meet the modest target of 5% of GDP to be spent on infrastructure projects.

Many commentators have highlighted the inadequacy of this objective. It is not enough to ensure the economy can continue to grow and make up for the failures of the past. We must find ways to ensure that what we plan can be done within a reasonable time. Citizens of Dublin are fed up with hearing promises of projects while sitting in endless traffic jams, watching full buses go past them and travelling in trains in conditions in which one would not transport animals. Despite the money spent, facilities for commuters have changed very little. We have not spent enough despite spending much money, and what has been spent has not given us value.

The reason for this is the massive cost overruns on major infrastructure projects such as the Luas lines. The delays and overruns in this project were caused by indecision at the planning stage. Another example is the port tunnel, which is two years overdue while the cost has doubled. If projects are not started within a reasonable timeframe, they are underdesigned by the time they commence. After the contract has been awarded and a price agreed, the project must be redesigned. The developer or builder has the client over a barrel in respect of the extra amount that will be charged. I suspect this is what happened with the port tunnel. When developers and builders see so many projects delayed, they factor in these delays in the initial tender price. This is a guarantee of inflation and cost overruns. The planning process is a major factor in cost overruns and time delays. If this Bill brings some certainty to the planning process and ensures faster delivery of strategic infrastructure, it is a positive measure.

Every public representative seeks a more streamlined planning system. I hope the new system in An Bord Pleanála will distinguish between promoters in a hurry to receive planning permission and the higher remit of projects in the national interest. As we embark on a major investment in rail and metro I hope this Bill will allow planning to proceed and ensure the projects are delivered on time and within budget.

Post-permission changes are very costly and are not addressed in this Bill. After planning permission has been granted, it sometimes becomes clear that changes must be made due to site conditions or a design problem. Sometimes this is a minor change and, when a project has planning permission in principle, there should be a short circuit method of making minor changes to planning permission. One example is a building in my constituency that has not been completed. The developer wished to change a portion of the building because the client wanted to change the use of the building. The building has remained half-built for the past two years and this is in nobody's interest because it looks terrible and the builders must work elsewhere.

Public information and communication is crucial. Small planning site notices are hopelessly inadequate as a method of informing the public. There is an increasing tendency for post-permission agreements between councils and developers. Sometimes these are signalled in the planning application and concluded afterwards but sometimes they are used to bypass the planning system. In two cases in my constituency, side deals were done between developers and the council.

Councils can now take the building history of a developer, and whether they have failed to complete sites, into account. This should have been brought into law far sooner but it is apposite now because of the number of apartment blocks being built. In the past, councils could urge builders to complete development but now there is no protection for apartment block owners whose sites will never be taken in charge. In many cases they must pay for completion of the complex through management charges even though it was a condition of the planning permission that the developer undertake this.

I welcome the Bill and hope it achieves its aims. If not, we can revert to it.

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

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Dublin South East, Labour)
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It is long overdue.

Photo of Seán FlemingSeán Fleming (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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Yes, it is long overdue.

There was previously provision but too much responsibility on the local authority. The onus now falls on the planning applicant to prove his or her bona fides, as is only right. That is good news buried in this important legislation. It is a special section not directly connected with the legislation's main business, but I wish to highlight it from that perspective. It is very important, and most people will be very pleased to hear of it.

The Bill's objectives include the following. Projects promoted by local authorities in their own areas will go straight to An Bord Pleanála on the basis the local authority, as a planning authority, should not be judge and jury in its own case. Large infrastructure projects such as motorways require an environmental impact assessment. Everyone would agree with that, and it brings me to a very important point.

We will very soon have to move to a system whereby all local authority developments go to a special section of An Bord Pleanála. There is no basis in natural justice for a housing section in a local authority to grant planning permission to its own planning section when the same directors of services sit around the table with each other every day of the week, and there is only one county manager. What is wrong with that system is that the public has no right of appeal to An Bord Pleanála.

People say day in, day out that the council has one rule for itself and one for others. We have all seen instances where planning permission has been refused for certain reasons. I have witnessed several cases of refusal because facilities might not be in place in a private development. However, if it is promoted by the county council, its own staff will pressure the planning department to say the development is needed for sewerage or social housing. If an application had come from an outside third party, it would not have been entertained; yet they regularly get through the system because the local authority is both promoting and adjudicating on them.

I know elected members also have a role in such matters, but it is very hard for them to stand up all of a sudden and oppose a development because infrastructure such as water and sewerage is not in place. They tend to give it the nod, and that creates problems for residents later. I would like a situation whereby no Government body or local authority making a planning application judges itself. That will have to be addressed at some point.

Under this Bill, development projects outside the normal planning system have a separate consent system, for example, railway lines, which would previously have been subject to consent procedures. Major infrastructure projects carried out by the private sector, a State-sponsored body or local authorities outside their area had to go through the normal, two-step planning process, but now they will go straight to An Bord Pleanála. Those arrangements are sensible, and people will be happy with them.

I wish briefly to highlight the details covered by the Bill. I will mention only the headings, since there might be some confusion among the public. Section 5 lists the types of projects that will now go directly to An Bord Pleanála, which include energy infrastructure projects such as oil refineries, terminals and power stations, and industrial installations whose output is more than 300 MW. Transport projects covered would include railway stations and lines.

Applications regarding the environment, the area about which the public is most concerned, such as waste disposal incinerators would go directly to An Bord Pleanála. I stress it will be only for facilities whose annual intake is greater than 100,000 tonnes. That is a very substantial incinerator and not the kind that would be proposed in local areas.

I think in particular of my own midland region, which has a waste management plan. There is provision for thermal treatment in all the regional plans, but I have always stated there is not the physical supply of waste in the midland counties of Laois, Offaly, Longford, Westmeath and north Tipperary to justify it, something confirmed in the legislation, which will apply only to facilities with an intake greater than 100,000 tonnes per annum.

There will be a few such incinerators around the country, but not in every county. Some claim the Bill will force them onto localities without public consultation, but they should consider the facts and the content of the legislation. There will inevitably be a few, but they will not pop up everywhere. It is important that those ready to join the scaremongering bandwagon examine the facts. We are talking only about extremely large incinerators. We will have the normal public consultation procedures in these matters, and it is welcome that they are continued in this legislation. There will be a strategic infrastructure division in An Bord Pleanála.

For the first time, there will be a formal legislative role for elected councillors. Up to now councillors could object to a particular aspect of a project and, while their objection was noted, they had no formal role. Now, within ten weeks from receipt of the application, the local authority can submit to the board a report setting out its views. The county manager will be required by law to submit the report to the members of the authority seeking their views on the proposed development, and the members of the planning authority may, by resolution, decide to attach recommendations specified in the resolution to the report of the authority where the members so decide these recommendations will be attached to the report submitted to the board.

This is an important new provision. It does not provide for a formal decision but there is now a mechanism by which elected members can have a formal legal impact on, and involvement in, the process. The views of the elected members of a local authority will now be formally taken into account by An Bord Pleanála, which did not happen heretofore. It is a little like the county development plan in that the manager's report must go before the elected members who can, by resolution, agree to it or make amendments to it.

Most of this legislation relates to projects which require environmental impact statements, EISs. The way we deal with EISs is a major issue. Despite my limited experience, I have severe criticisms to make of the quality of EISs submitted to local authorities. Many people submit minimum information in the hope it will satisfy the local planner. I have yet to meet a planner in my local authority who has been satisfied with an EIS. Planners must regularly write to applicants stating the EIS was insufficient and inadequate for reasons which they must specify. For example, the EIS might not deal with the human and environmental aspects or with every protected structure. I have yet to see a satisfactory EIS produced by the private sector.

The reason for some of the delays with major infrastructure is that we do not have the quality of people in the private sector to design some of the major projects properly. As I have seen with projects in the midlands, owing to the growing economy and the fact that everybody is stretched, we are bringing in consultants from the UK and much further afield to work on projects. It takes a great deal of time for these people to familiarise themselves with the situation in this country. Time and again, planners are very dissatisfied with the quality of EISs. That is a significant contributory factor to the delay in the planning process. The law or the planners are not the problem.

Perhaps planners should reject applications if they receive bad or poorly drafted EISs. If the application is bad, it is not the job of the local authority to coach the applicant how to get it right. The legislation provides for pre-planning discussions with the decision makers in An Bord Pleanála who can direct the applicants on the areas to be covered by an EIS. However, if one thinks about it, the people preparing an EIS should have the professional competence to do so and they should not have to go to the decision makers to ask what is required. If they know their job, they should know what is required. It is a little like a judge directing a solicitor on how he should put forward a client's case.

I hope the professional bodies involved in the preparation of EISs under the various headings will be quick to learn from each other's reports. Given that these are new infrastructural developments which we have not had in the past, perhaps these people do not have the expertise and it is necessary to bring in expertise from outside the country. However, many of the reports I have seen could have been done better in the first place. I hope An Bord Pleanála will give advice but will not have to coach applicants excessively on how to present a good application.

Another issue of emerging concern in regard to An Bord Pleanála is where there is a clear divergence between the inspector, who carries out the oral hearing, and the decision of the board. As a public representative, I find such divergences difficult to explain to people. This legislation states that the board can give the inspector directions on what he or she must consider as part of his or her oral hearing. It is at the discretion of the board whether to conduct an oral hearing. Perhaps it would be better if those directions were published in advance of the oral hearing so the public would know the parameters of the hearing, that the inspector's hands were, to a significant extent, tied or that the inspector had been told to examine the issues from the point of view of sustainable development in the area but to remember that the board would look at the broader national policy following his or her work at local level. That should be stated at the outset if the process is to be genuine.

We have all seen instances in our constituencies, in terms of major infrastructural projects and smaller private sector projects, where an inspector made one decision but the board made another. While the board provides a paragraph stating the reason for its refusal, it does not help the public's perception of An Bord Pleanála if the people it employs to do a job are overruled at the last minute for no apparent reason. The public finds it hard to accept it if an inspector holds an oral hearing in a local hotel for two to four days, or even three or four weeks in the case of some motorway projects, and his or her report is overruled by people who never left their offices in Dublin. The board might consider how it could be a little more consistent in how it does its work and publishes its decisions. This area needs to be tidied up.

We should not get too excited about that issue of fees to the board and to local authorities. It is all taxpayers' money and it involves taking money from the local authorities to give to An Bord Pleanála to cover its fees — taking money from Peter to give to Paul. It is of no great consequence in that it is taxpayers' money being expended by the local authorities and what of it if An Bord Pleanála must carry a cost and is not reimbursed by the local authority. While it might make for tidy book-keeping, it should not be a significant issue. We are only talking about moving a cheque from one State body to another.

I refer to the inspection of the files. Up to now, if the issue was being dealt with at local authority level, people could go to the local authority office and examine the file. If an application is made directly to An Bord Pleanála, I am concerned that people will have to travel to its office in Dublin. Its public office will have to be made much larger. I ask that the matter be clarified so that there is easy access for the public to the files during the course of consideration of a planning application. I hope the legislation is enacted as quickly as possible.

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Dublin South East, Labour)
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I wish to address the broader issue of the provision of infrastructure and the failure of this Government and the Taoiseach to grasp an opportunity when the new Government was formed in 2002. We are going through a period of economic growth which the economic forecasters suggest will last for another ten to 15 years at in or around 4% to 5%. At one level, it is a fantastic opportunity for this country. It is a prospect previous Administrations did not face and it provides opportunities none of us could have dreamed of 15 years ago. However, the opportunities it presents are not being capitalised upon. The emerging sustainability argument which confronts not only this island but the whole of the European Union, if not the entire globe, seems to be ignored in the lack of joined-up thinking in Government.

I am firmly of the view that, when this Government was formed, it should have established a Department of infrastructure instead of a Department of Transport. We should have had a Minister with responsibility for infrastructure and a spatial plan for the whole of the country and not the spatial strategy which has been published and subsequently ignored, as we saw in the disastrous decentralisation argument. The national spatial strategy is a woolly document lacking in coherence for developers trying to anticipate where the major infrastructure would go. Instead, we are presented with this compromise Bill which, despite three or four years' gestation, does not deal with one of the key problems that arises when a community feels its wishes have been ignored, namely, redress to the courts.

The courts will not necessarily deal any more quickly with disputes arising from this than they have in the past. This is an area where the delay in the delivery of infrastructure has occurred. It is wrong to suggest this Bill will deal with some of the issues we need to address or speed up the decision-making process. It will trample on local democracy and increase the cynicism and suspicion that already exist at local level.

A department of infrastructure would prevent the problems that emerge when planning permission is granted for housing estates, for example, in the constituencies of Deputies O'Dowd and Burton. The educational authorities are mystified when, four years after the houses have been built, the patter of little feet is heard as children arrive to enrol as junior infants in the local school. There is no coherent linkage between the provision of housing estates, primary schools, secondary schools and local health care facilities to enable a general practitioner to establish him or herself in the area and provide cover.

That did not matter in the past because we were growing so slowly. As public representatives, we know that the process of moving from the first to the last stages in providing a primary school was a bureaucratic procedure designed to conceal the fact that resources were scarce and to ration out those resources over a period with a veneer of proper management. Now there is a crisis because parents cannot enrol their children in school, yet the procedure for the provision of primary schools has not been radically transformed when it needs to be. We are facing population growth on a scale with which no previous independent Administration ever had to cope.

We need a department of infrastructure to ensure that we get the joined-up thinking that does not exist in the Department of Health and Children which, for example, provides a facility in Mullingar Hospital that has stood empty for between five and seven years because of a lack of staff. Something is wrong with the way we govern ourselves, politically and administratively, when it produces this type of contradiction. It is not peculiar to one Administration because three Governments were responsible for the examples I have cited.

We need a department of infrastructure to remove the capital spend in respect of education, health services, housing, transport and energy from the various Departments now responsible for those areas and consider the implications of creating a national plan for the whole island, not just the 26 counties. Deputy Cowley is Acting Chairman, but I will address him in his representative capacity for a moment, and his colleague from Mayo, Deputy Cooper-Flynn. The country needs an infrastructural plan that will link Derry to Killarney and, through that, connect Sligo and Castlebar, Galway and Limerick, and Killarney and Rosslare.

We need a box grid of infrastructure on this island, not the radial spokes that shove the traffic jams out in the morning from the estates into Dublin city and back in the evening. This is a most inefficient design of infrastructure. It is also one-dimensional. When the ESB contacted the National Roads Authority to ask if it could use the median on roadways to roll out broadband, the NRA said it was in the business of roads, not communications.

This Bill does not begin to address strategic infrastructure. There is no picture, for example, to show an investor coming here for the first time wanting to know what the country would look like 25 years hence. If one were to join the development plans for each of the local authorities together like a jigsaw, they would not fit because they are not linked up. Producing this legislation before a strategic plan puts the cart before the horse. A proper structural spatial plan also needs to be rigorously stress-tested for increases in the cost of energy, given the present crisis.

I welcome the fact that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is in the Chamber. This Bill proposes to enhance the role of local democracy, giving councillors ten weeks in which to respond to a strategic infrastructural project that would qualify under this legislation. The role of city councillors in Dublin has been trampled on by the provisions emanating from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Yesterday, several people in my constituency asked me about the incinerator. Dublin City Council has formally and democratically rejected the incinerator but the city manager is proceeding with it under the instructions of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

The Minister may shake his head but that is the reality. The direction for the waste disposal plan for the Dublin region resulted in an incinerator being located on the most populated bay on the entire island. The local people do not want it and local representatives have voted against it, yet it is being imposed upon them by managerial diktat through the process of legislation that was deliberately brought in by the Minister's predecessors. We bemoan the fact that many do not bother to vote in local elections but, if they do, the people they elect cannot articulate their concerns or carry through their wishes and interests.

This incinerator will service the Dublin region. Waste will be baled on sites along the M50, transported through the tunnel and across the toll bridge to Ringsend to be burnt, notwithstanding the under-capacity of the M50 and the difficulty for trucks going through the tunnel. There is no joined-up thinking in this plan.

The previous speaker, from Laoighis-Offaly, spoke about the lack of incinerators in his constituency. The country needs one major incinerator, or at least two or three, not the plethora of incinerators it is getting. Deputy O'Dowd will correct me if I am wrong in saying that the successful applicants to build one in County Meath have applied to increase its capacity. They applied originally, however, on the basis of an assessment of the quantity of disposable waste in the waste management plan.

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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They have, yes.

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Dublin South East, Labour)
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If the waste management plan is successful, we will reduce the flow of fuel to incinerators and, if the fuel is not burnt at a sufficient volume to a sufficient temperature, there is a risk of dioxins entering the system. This was one of the conclusions drawn from the Merck Sharp and Dohme controversy in Tipperary many years ago.

It is difficult to take at face value the proposition that this Bill will enhance local democracy and give councillors more say than they have at present when those who want to have a say and voted formally to reject an incinerator local people do not want see it going through. There is an extraordinary element of hypocrisy in this matter too because, although the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has solemnly sworn to defend the interests of his constituents in Dublin South-East and prevent the incinerator from going ahead, he has sat, as Attorney General and as a Minister, at the Cabinet table and allowed this happen. If the issue were as important at national level as he proclaimed it was at local level, he would have done the honourable thing, that is, he would have objected to it properly and resigned if unsuccessful. Otherwise he would have told his constituents in Dublin South-East that he was not doing what he had promised and they could therefore make their own decision on his candidacy in the next election. He has chosen neither of these options and consequently public cynicism has increased.

Without dealing with the High Court process and ensuring that a special division of that court would process disputes speedily, many of the objectives of this legislation will not be achieved. The Bill is tramping on the first layer of local democracy and removing the planning process at this level. At the level of local democracy, a local group concerned about a project can go to its local county council office to see the plans, talk to its own councillors and engage in some interaction regarding the possible local impact of the proposal. The first layer of local democracy is being stripped away not in respect of small domestic extensions but in respect of major infrastructural projects, which will generate far more concerns than normal domestic-type applications.

When a matter goes to An Bord Pleanála, in the manner suggested, the likelihood is there will be a court case. Without setting up a new dedicated section in the High Court and without dealing with the court's procedures, there is no guarantee this Bill will achieve the objective for which it was introduced, that is, to shorten the length of the planning process.

We know the problem with Dublin Airport, which is in crisis, has nothing to do with the planning process and everything to do with the ideological Mexican stand-off between the Progressive Democrats and Fianna Fáil over competing terminals at the airport. This selfish ideological spat has crucified travellers going through the airport and it makes no economic or common sense. The break-up of Aer Rianta, which has not produced the business plan that former Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy, wanted for it, has resulted inevitably in conflict between Dublin and Cork airports over the capital cost of the provisions for the latter. This will ultimately reach the courts in Luxembourg through the European Commission and it will be found that Cork Airport cannot off-load its capital cost to Dublin Airport, contrary to the lies told to the people of Cork.

When dividing Aer Rianta into three separate entities under European law such that those entities will compete against one another, it is illegal to place a handicap on one to the effect that it must provide the capital for another. If Aer Rianta were left alone and if the Cabinet had the courage to sack Noel O'Hanlon, which is what it really wanted to do, it would not have resulted in the most expensive redundancy package in the history of the State. The issue has not yet gone away and other Administrations will have to deal with it.

There are many other provisions in the Bill I would like to talk about. I very much welcome the acceptance by the Minister of the Labour Party's Private Members' Bill, which resurfaced in the legislation as section 9. It is long overdue. On Committee Stage, my colleague Deputy Gilmore might try to flesh out how this will function legally. The rogue builders are individuals, yet one must consider what would happen if an applicant were a company with two nominated directors. I would like to know how the Minister proposes to deal with circumstances in which a roguish individual who forms Fairfax Construction applies for planning permission under that name, lists the company as having one or two directors, fails to complete an estate in the manner required and applies to build another under the name of another company, using a nominated director. He could be the beneficial owner of the company. We already know, in light of the housing structure in the Dublin area, about the layers of cover that exist to conceal the identity of directors. Perhaps one extra provision is necessary in this regard. As a non-lawyer, I suggest the provisions in the companies legislation, whereby a director who is defective in complying with the law can be struck off and disallowed from being a director, may comprise a belt-and-braces approach to this legislation.

By spending a couple of hours with a good solicitor, as one might spend a couple of hours with a good tax accountant, one could drive a coach and four through these provisions. If one expects a clerk in a local authority to go to the Companies Office to trawl through the maze of companies set up to provide a fog around the true identity of the owner, one will find it very difficult to ensure that one will not grant planning permission because of the behaviour of a director. I welcome the Bill in principle but, as a legislator, I am not sure it is sufficiently robust to weed out the 5% of people who are gangsters and who give the rest of the building industry a very bad name.