Tuesday, 27 May 2008
Question 94: To ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if, following the requirement on all planning authorities to develop or update their policy on taking in charge of estates by the end of June 2008, there is a requirement to report progress to his Department. [20774/08]
Question 108: To ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will amend the planning Acts to clarify the taking in charge of estates sections to stop confusion over what should be taken in charge by a council instead of a management company, or to increase the responsibilities of councils to take in charge further sections of developments instead of requiring a management company to shoulder the burden; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20881/08]
Question 119: To ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the number, following the requirement on all planning authorities to develop or update their policy on taking in charge of estates by the end of June 2008, of local authorities that have complied with this requirement to date. [20775/08]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 94, 108, 119, 140 and 456 together.
Section 180 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 sets out the legal requirements for planning authorities for the taking in charge of residential estates where certain conditions have been met. Updated policy guidance on this matter in the form of circular letter PD 1/08 was issued to all planning authorities by my Department in February 2008.
Facilities required to be taken in charge are set out in the policy guidance. They include public roads and footpaths, unallocated surface parking areas, public lighting, public water supply, foul and storm water drainage and public open spaces. The guidance also sets out the limited circumstances in which planning authorities should attach conditions to planning permissions for management companies or other management arrangements.
Each planning authority was asked to develop or update, as appropriate, its policy on taking in charge by the end of June 2008 on the basis of the updated policy guidance, and to ensure its revised policy be made available to the public, published on its website and continue to be reported on to the elected members on a regular basis.
The new service indicator for the taking in charge of estates will provide benchmark data from 2009 onwards for monitoring the taking in charge process and, in particular, the priority being accorded by individual planning authorities to the taking in charge of unfinished or legacy estates. The information to be reported will include the number of estates taken in charge in the year in question, the total number of dwellings in these estates and the number of estates in respect of which enforcement action was taken.
Since I was elected, I have noted the Minister invites ideas from across the floor of the House. May I suggest regarding the nuclear test ban Bill that he removes the provision that allows only for imprisonment for 12 months or a fine of €5,000 for the detonation of a nuclear device in Ireland?
Will the Department record the information from the local authorities when it is collected by the end of June? How many local authorities have complied with the guidance requirements to date? The recently issued circular from the Minister states what local authorities should have been doing already. There are few new requirements in it with no major breakthrough in the planning area. Ultimately, it is a matter of enforcement. Should the circular allow local authorities to carry out enforcement to ensure developments can be taken in charge? Often local authorities find when taking in charge of an estate that the developer is broke or no longer in business. Should we ensure the costs for taking in charge are kept to a minimum rather than local authorities having to make up the shortfall to get estates to standard and taken in charge?
The developer of a residential estate is statutorily required to complete the development in accordance with the terms of the planning permission. A development which has not been completed in accordance with the planning permission is an unauthorised development. Under the Planning and Development Act 2000, planning authorities have substantial enforcement powers. A planning authority may issue an enforcement notice on a development requiring such steps as it may specific to be taken within a specified period. A planning authority may also apply to the High Court or the Circuit Court for an order requiring any person to do or not do anything that the court considers necessary to ensure the development is carried out in conformity with the planning permission.
I want to strengthen the enforcement powers available to planning authorities. The section 35 amendment introduced in the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act 2006 allows a planning authority to refuse planning permission without recourse to the High Court to a developer who is in substantial non-compliance with the terms of a previous permission.
The implementation of the new policy in this area will require the commitment of additional resources by planning authorities, particularly with pre-application consultations and the inspection of construction. There may also be a cost for additional remedial works that may be required before older estates can be taken in charge.
Record levels of general purposes grants have been provided this year for local authorities from the local government fund, amounting to approximately €1 billion. I am confident the level of funding made available is adequate to meet ongoing local authority needs.
The Department has also completed a review of planning application fees which the local authorities requested. These were last increased in 1998. A public consultation process on the matter has been completed and I am expecting a report on the outcome of that consultation presently.
Speaking on this topic a month ago I put two questions to the Minister concerning the number of local authorities that have compiled this information. When the deadline of 28 June as detailed in the circular arrives, will local authorities be required to report to the Department that they have drawn up the guidelines as set out in the circular? Is it the case that these guidelines from the Department do not add anything further to what is being enforced or is in place under legislation? Local authorities have plenty of guidelines and circulars; the difficulty is with enforcement.
In reply to Deputy Ciarán's Lynch's question, no local authority has reported but the deadline is the end of June. As I stated in my previous reply, I am of the view that they have the necessary resources. The Department is issuing circular letters to the local authorities to say that this is important work which must be done. It is not just a question of allowing them to issue guidelines; this matter is very important and the Department will be following it up. I have no doubt that the Deputy will also be following up on it.
Can the Minister confirm that all local authorities have discontinued the practice of putting in conditions that management companies be set up when granting permissions for housing estates? I know the Minister is taking this matter seriously but he is up against developers and the local authorities. I know from replies received to parliamentary questions in 2006 and 2007 that in the past circulars were sent to local authorities. How many local authorities replied to those circulars? What happens in the case of an estate where one side is left undeveloped so the estate is not complete? A builder may have built 300 or 400 houses, a management company is set up and one side of the estate is left vacant. What happens in that case? Has the local authority any authority to take over that estate or must the management company continue despite the efforts of the householders?
I appreciate the Minister's response with regard to the circular setting out what local authorities should and should not take in charge. The key issue concerns timeframes and bonds. The problem concerns the situations where estates are not being taken in charge for between seven and 13 years. The solution is quite simple. Guidelines should set out much higher bonds which developers must pay, bonds which are worth losing. If an estate is not completed to the satisfaction of the local authority after, for example, an interval of five years, the developer would lose the entirety of that bond. This must be a bond worth losing because currently it is only about €10,000 or €11,000. If it is a bond worth losing then the local authority could use that money to finish the job. This is the key reform that needs to be put in place.
I agree that the bonds need to be much higher because the developers and builders are walking away from these housing estates without finishing them because it is not worth their while having to finish them. Will the Minister issue a directive to ensure the housing estates are taken in charge within two years? We need a timeframe.
Will the Minister assure the House that he will take whatever powers are necessary to ensure that areas of land which were designated in original planning permissions as open space will remain in public ownership? This is a scandal in Dublin where the local authorities did not formally take these open spaces in charge and they are now being sold on with people applying for planning permission.
New service indicators are now in place. Planning authorities will be asked each year to provide the following information in respect of the previous year — the number of residential estates for which the planning permission has expired in respect of which formal written requests for taking in charge were made either by residents or developers; the number of estates taken in charge in the year in question; the total number of dwellings in these estates; the number of estates not completed to the satisfaction of the planning authority in line with the planning permission, in respect of which requests were received; the number of such estates in respect of which enforcement action was taken in the year in question and-or whether the bond was called in; and the number of such estates in respect of which works were undertaken by the authority to bring the estate to a taking in charge standard. Those are the main elements of the new service indicators and they will definitely have an effect.
I take on board the comments made by Deputy Varadkar about bonds. Deputies have asked about direction. The main elements of the policy guidance will be incorporated into the new sustainable residential development guidelines which are currently available for public consultation. They will be issued later this year under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000. Planning authorities are obliged to have regard to such guidelines in the exercise of their functions under the Planning Acts.
The question posed by Deputy Barrett is also important. The preservation of green space must be a priority. One of the things I noticed on taking office is that we do not have either a landscape or a parks policy. I would regard such policies as being essential components to enhancing people's quality of life or to preserving existing quality of life which would deteriorate if there was a shortage of green space. I know that in the case of green space which is supposed to be protected, this can be gradually eroded. The Deputy's point is valid and I will make this a priority.