Wednesday, 17 September 2014
Unfinished Housing Developments
6. To ask the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government whether he is satisfied with the taking in charge process; if he intends to change the process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34317/14]
This question relates to the taking in charge process. Every Member will know of the difficulties that have arisen in respect of the process. There are situations involving families in estates that have not been taken in charge for long periods, periods of years, in fact. As a result they are not entitled to the services of the local authority. Is the Minister aware of these situations? Does he intend to make changes to the process? Will the Minister make a statement on the matter?
I thank the Deputy for what is a very good question. Section 180 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 provides, in respect of the estates which have been completed to the satisfaction of the planning authority in accordance with the planning permission, that the planning authority must, if requested to do so by the developer or by the majority of the owners of the houses involved, initiate the procedures for taking the estate in charge.
In the case of estates which have not been completed to the satisfaction of the planning authority in accordance with the planning permission and where enforcement proceedings have not commenced within seven years of the expiration of the permission authorising the development, section 180 also provides that the planning authority must, if requested to do so by the majority of the owners of the houses concerned, initiate taking in charge procedures.
This is a serious issue throughout the country. My Department is currently reviewing the taking in charge provisions to determine if they can be improved. The Department will include any appropriate amendments to section 180 in forthcoming planning legislation. My Department is also considering amendments to section 180 that may be required consequential on the establishment of Irish Water and issues that arise as a result.
I certainly welcome the fact that the Department and the Minister are reviewing the situation. Can the Minister give us any timeline in respect of the review? Has it started? When will it finish? What outcome does the Minister anticipate from it? There are situations whereby builders have become insolvent, where they are not on-site, cannot be contacted or perhaps are not in the country. Every Member knows the difficulties that have arisen for families and communities in such estates. I urge the Minister to bring the review on quickly, to publish it and give us an indication of when that might happen.
It has begun. It is in process and is being looked at. Data has been gathered in respect of local authorities. Discussions with the County and City Managers Association and the various planning departments in local authorities have taken place. A range of issues must be addressed. Certain issues in one part of the country or one local authority are not necessarily the same as those affecting other local authorities, for example, issues in respect of water and how water is dealt with, including the associated legacy issues for estates. Following the establishment of Irish Water, the interpretation of one local authority in one area and other local authorities in other areas in respect of potential taking in charge issues needs to be addressed and is being addressed as we speak. It is a priority in the Department. There are several planning Bills in gestation within my Department. Should the review be done in time we will certainly consider any amendments as part of the process.
I thank the Leas Cheann-Comhairle for the opportunity to contribute. I am pleased to hear that the review has started in respect of taking in charge of estates and Irish Water. I welcome the fact that the Minister has started it. A circular was sent out from Irish Water to each county and city manager in the State some months ago. That letter, of which I have a copy, actually vetoes the taking in charge of any estate by a county or city council.
According to the document, if an estate has a pumping station, as many do, then the council should not approach Irish Water about taking the estate in charge. The Minister might highlight this matter to his officials, as it is important that Irish Water's management be told to withdraw that circular.
I raised this issue in the House previously. In fairness, a protocol for addressing such matters is necessary. There may be a question of language and interpretation from the local authorities' point of view. A protocol is being developed. The issue needs to be and is being addressed.