Wednesday, 14 November 2018
Local Government Bill 2018: Second Stage (Resumed)
I will endeavour to continue from where I stopped when I began my contribution.
I propose to bring forward a number of amendments to the main provisions dealing with the Cork boundary alteration following consultation by the Department with the Cork implementation oversight group and comments received from the Cork local authorities since the Bill was published.
I will now go through the main provisions of the Bill in detail. The Bill is set out in five Parts made up of 32 sections and the associated Schedule. Part 1 contains standard provisions dealing with the Title, collective citations and commencement. It also provides for interpretation of key terms, regulations, orders and directions as well as a technical provision for expenses.
Part 2 alters the boundary between the county and city of Cork as indicated on the deposited map with effect from the day it is appointed by the Minister, which is intended to be a week after the local elections are held in mid-2019 when the new councils take office. It goes on to deal with a number of consequential matters, including the transfer of staff, land and buildings, property other than land, the transfer of rights and responsibilities, the continuation of leases, licences and permissions, the financial settlement that the transfer will require between the two authorities and the preparation of maps of the new local authority administrative areas that will apply after the transfer day. Any land and buildings in the transferring area owned by the county council will automatically vest in the city council with effect from the transfer day, apart from any exceptions that might be agreed between the two local authorities before that day. When it comes to staff and non-land property, the two local authorities will need to jointly agree and designate the property and the staff numbers and grades that should transfer. The usual safeguarding of employment terms and conditions will apply to the transferring staff of the county council. All rights and liabilities attaching to anything that transfers to the city council will automatically also transfer. There are also provisions to establish the Cork boundary alteration oversight committee to assist the two councils in performing their functions under the legislation and a key part of this will be an implementation plan that the committee will be required to prepare.
The final sections in this Part deal with arrangements between the two authorities for the performance of functions in the transferring area and the obligations on the councils and their staff to facilitate compliance with the legislation. A boundary alteration on this scale generates considerable work for the local authorities involved and the Cork implementation oversight group, which the Bill establishes on a statutory basis as the oversight committee, was set up just over a year ago to engage with the two authorities and oversee the implementation process. I have already provided financial support in the region of €1.2 million in 2018 to Cork City Council and Cork County Council and intend to make similar allocations next year towards additional staffing requirements to carry out the significant work required to prepare for and implement the reorganisation of both administrative areas. As well as preparing the implementation plan, the oversight committee will be able to provide advice and recommended solutions to any stumbling blocks that arise in agreeing the terms of the financial settlement that should apply or what staff posts and property should be designated for transfer.
Part 3 contains other consequential provisions, such as data sharing requiring the county council to give the city council all the information, including personal information, which the city council might require for the purpose of performing functions in the relevant area. For the local financial year 2019, the Bill provides that the relevant area remains part of the rating area of the county council until 31 December 2019 and the county council’s budget and the municipal districts’ schedules of works for 2019 continue to apply for the rest of the year as if the boundary alteration had not happened. The city council will, however, during 2019 set the municipal rate and decide any variation in the local property tax rate for 2020. This means that the basis on which the 2019 budgets were prepared will remain valid for the year.
The Bill provides that the registers of electors to be used by the two Cork authorities for the 2019 elections will be based on the post-boundary alteration position so that the electors in the relevant areas can participate in the election of the councillors who will represent them when the boundary changes take place a week after the election. Interim polling district and polling place arrangements to cater for the new administrative areas are also provided for. It is intended that the development plans, local area plans and also the local economic and community plans relating to the relevant area will continue to apply after the transfer day until such time as Cork City Council makes replacement plans or variations.
When it comes to planning, the Bill provides that the county council will complete any planning enforcement proceedings commenced before the transfer day and conclude any planning application cases already under way at that time, while the city council will be responsible for new enforcement proceedings that arise after the transfer day. The city council’s development contribution schemes will apply to the relevant area and the transferred development contributions applicable to infrastructure projects in the relevant area will continue to be ring-fenced for infrastructure and facilities in that area.
The remainder of this Part provides for the interim continued applicability of any rules, regulations or by-laws applicable to the relevant area, together with a general saver for Acts and instruments done before the transfer day and for arrears of rates, rents and housing loan repayments continuing to be collectible by the county council.
Part 4 deals with amendments to the Local Government Acts of 2001 and 1991 and an amendment to the Valuation Act that will mean the city council will not be able to request a revaluation of the transferred properties on the basis of the boundary alteration. The 2001 Act amendments are consequential to the boundary alteration and the amendments to Part V of the 1991 Act are to provide that future boundary alterations can be effected by ministerial order only where the local authorities concerned are in agreement. This will mean that boundary alterations in future will require to be effected through primary legislation where the change is not something that the two authorities agree should happen. However, where they are in complete agreement about the need for a change to the boundary, the quick and simple procedure for effecting the change by way of an order under the 1991 Act will continue to be available. The Committee Stage amendment providing for joint structures to facilitate local area planning for urban areas that span county boundaries, which I mentioned a number of weeks ago, will provide an alternative way of ensuring the appropriate future development of towns and cities that straddle two local authority areas without changing the local authority boundaries.
Part 5 amends the Local Government Act 2001 by inserting a section to provide for a single chief executive with dual responsibility for Galway City Council and GaIway County Council. This will facilitate administrative integration of the two local authorities in advance of the merger recommended by the expert advisory group. Similar dual management arrangements were put in place in Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford ahead of the mergers of councils in those areas and they worked well. This approach, which was recommended by the GaIway expert advisory group, will see two separate elected councils being retained for the 2019 local elections and, at the same time, facilitate the decision in principle that has been taken to merge the two authority areas by 2021.
I will, as I mentioned two weeks ago, bring forward several amendments on Committee Stage, which I hope will be taken well in advance of the turn of the year. Chief among these will be amendments related to plebiscites for directly elected mayors and to committees for cross-boundary urban areas. Other Committee Stage amendments that I will propose to sections of the Bill dealing with the boundary alteration mainly arise from the consultation with the Cork oversight group and comments received from the two Cork authorities that I referred to earlier.
I commend the Bill to the House.
I will share time with a number of my colleagues. I thank the Minister of State for the detail provided this evening. I am pleased to speak on the Bill and its implications. Any document that has at its heart the issue of boundaries will elicit much passion, interest and debate. Debates about boundaries in this country, whether they are international, as we see at present, or county boundaries, have always generated passionate debate. Debates about boundaries in today's Ireland have more to do with planning and the results of how populations have sprawled beyond old urban boundaries than about marauding forces breaching boundaries.
Nonetheless, the passions can be just as high. As a part of this initial boundary review, the results of which we are now debating, my home county of Meath was subjected to a review and a concerted campaign by Louth County Council's elected members and executive to seize part of Meath and take it for the town of Drogheda. This land grab was fought back with even more passion by Meath County Council and our inhabitants who sought to stay within the royal county.
Leaving aside the issues of this land grab that concern the heartfelt desire for one's children to play for a good footballing county, what was really at play here was the key issue of resources. Officials from Louth County Council gazed across the border into County Meath and saw thousands of homes and the potential for local property tax income, coupled with the potential for the rates income of large businesses located across the border, which was a highly motivating factor.
Having been involved in a boundary extension a decade ago in my town following an order by the then Minister, John Gormley, I know there are many officials in Meath who can suddenly become the most talented map-makers one would ever see. In my town of Navan, we have the largest zinc mine in western Europe and there was no way that mine's rates base was going to move from the county council area into the town area. Lines were drawn in Meath County Council headquarters that one could compare only to the division of Africa by the colonial powers and they were ultimately endorsed by the Custom House. In the long run, however, that did not matter because Fine Gael killed local democracy in towns anyway and, therefore, the budgets were all merged onto the county council books.
The point we are debating in respect of Cork is the same. When we consider the Bill and address the need for the transfer of assets, income and expenditure from one authority to another, it is the issue of money that always arises and is the overriding concern. At the time of the review in all of these counties, be it Meath, Louth, Kilkenny, Waterford, Roscommon, Westmeath, Galway or Cork, the people themselves only wanted authorities to provide good service, as evidenced by the submissions received, and for the county to which they belonged to be the authority providing it. We in Fianna Fáil believe that respect for county boundaries is essential and should be respected.
The extension of the city boundary in Cork is being done to ensure the orderly expansion, continued prosperity and growth of Cork city, and to reflect the true nature of the area the city encompasses. This will not, therefore, have any impact on the integrity of county boundaries. Ensuring we have a strong counterbalance in the south of the country to the ever growing over-concentration of high-tech development, industrial development, infrastructure and housing in Dublin is essential. In Cork city, the people's republic, there are the skill sets, dynamism, third level colleges and infrastructure to do this. The city council must be able to capitalise on that foundation. It needs to be supported by these legislative changes and we in Fianna Fáil are happy to support that process. The extension of the city council boundary to places such as Ballincollig, Blarney, Glanmire, Little Island and Cork Airport into the city, and the expansion of the city's population from 125,000 to approximately 250,000, will allow the city expand and grow by attracting investment as a city on a European scale.
In Galway, also, the Bill provides for the creation of a chief executive officer, CEO, to administer the local authorities of the city and the county. The current city manager in Galway, Brendan McGrath, with whom I had the pleasure of working for many years, is a former senior official and manager of Meath County Council. He is a credit to the local government service and one will find no finer county or city manager. I am sure he will do an excellent job in the transition period.
As I mentioned in my opening remarks, it is the issues of finance, assets and debt that have exercised most minds. There needs to be much more clarity in respect of these arrangements for the Cork expansion to provide real certainty for both authorities and to allow them prepare financially in a proper fashion for 2019 and thereafter. While there are big headline issues that will need to be addressed quickly, there is a myriad of services that cross over the councils and need detailed examination to be resolved. Some 400 services are being transferred from the county to the city council, ranging from the big issues such as housing, roads, rates, rents, local property tax and so on, to more nuanced and emotional issues such as burial grounds looked after by the council. I accept that there is a timeline for the transfer of the big headline items, but will those other issues be worked out also?
There is concern from members and officials in Cork County Council in respect of this. As local government spokesperson for Fianna Fail, I have met the mayor, Patrick Gerard Murphy, the CEO, Tim Lucey, and the leaders of the respective party groups, Councillors Seamus McGrath and Kevin Murphy. The Minister of State said the liabilities will transfer to the city council, but there are concerns from that delegation that in sections 9 and 11, there is an apparent anomalous situation whereby property and assets could potentially transfer to the city but the related liabilities would remain with the county after the transfer day. The representatives from Cork whom I met requested that the Bill would clearly state that on the transfer day, when property and functional areas transfer to the city, all pre-transfer day liabilities attaching to that property and functional area shall also transfer to the city. Furthermore, they seek Cork City Council to be obliged to indemnify Cork County Council in respect of any other potential and unknown liabilities. In the Minister of State's closing remarks, will he address and explore this issue?
Section 17 deals with the financial settlement, which is of key concern to ensure there is a smooth transfer. There are some technical issues which need to be looked at as the Bill progresses, such as the activation of the review after the financial settlement. Whether this takes place not later than three years after the making of a settlement, as proposed, or not earlier than three years, as sought by Cork County Council, can be discussed. The Bill contains no reference to the continuation of the financial settlement period beyond ten years. Cork County Council members previously stated their strongly held position, however, that the financial settlement should be a fixed annual sum, index-linked on annual basis and payable from the city to the county, that it should not cease after ten years and that a further review beyond the initial ten-year period could be considered as deemed necessary and appropriate. As one can see in section 17(5)(b), there is no provision for a fixed amount on an annual basis in terms of the financial settlement, which has caused concern on the behalf of the Cork County members.
I raise these concerns because they were raised with me. I wish to see the Bill's smooth passage and discuss these matters and others with the Minister of State. As he stated, it is necessary for the legislation to be enacted this year to enable all the necessary provisions in time for the local elections next May, but I would appreciate examination of these concerns. My party and I wish to be supportive to his work in achieving that goal in order that we achieve the bigger goal of a more prosperous city and county in both Cork and Galway. I hope that whatever issues need to be ironed out are, ensuring a smooth, swift and efficient passage of the Bill.
Finally, I am interested in the amendments which could be tabled on Committee Stage, in particular in respect of committees for cross-boundary urban areas. The matter was problematic in the Minister of State's region and it is problematic in mine. We must seek to address that for the benefit of citizens around the country where there has been urban sprawl which does not serve our people well.
As a Cork county Deputy, I wish to state from the outset that the issue of the boundary changes for city and county councils needs to be resolved without delay. It has dragged on for long enough and, as the Minister of State will be all too well aware, we face local elections next May.
These represent delays on the preparations by incumbent and prospective candidates, which straddle several Cork constituencies and local electoral areas. While I understand the thinking behind the extension of the boundaries as it would allow the city to grow by attracting investment to a city on a European scale, this cannot disadvantage Cork county, and especially its peripheral areas in west Cork that I represent. This boundary change will result in large losses in revenue for the county. Adequate remedies must be put in place to counteract these losses. I do not want to see Cork South-West lose out from this Bill.
My colleague, Deputy Cassells, spoke of the concerns that we raised at our meeting with Cork County Council, so I will not repeat them.
The confidence and supply agreement clearly sets out a commitment to local government reform. However, it must be done properly and fairly. Phil Hogan's actions in 2013 put rural Ireland back many years. It was less a case of putting people first than putting people last. These decisions mean that public representatives who live and work in the heart of constituencies were made powerless in local politics. It was a big mistake which affected many towns in west Cork. I was a proud member of Bandon Town Council for ten years and know first-hand the work done by town councils. The bottom rung of local democracy was removed then. The situation was made worse by slashing the number of councillors. It will take many towns and villages years to recover from this. Were it not for the many voluntary groups and committees, many towns and villages would have fallen into rack and ruin. I commend the Trojan work done by these committees and applaud their volunteerism.
Fianna Fáil's proposal of a community council model would build on the work carried out by these volunteers. It would formally recognise the work they have been doing, give them credit for it and build on it to develop stronger communities. These changes must be implemented as soon as possible. Further procrastination will damage the progress of rural Ireland.
I served for many years in local government in Cork County Council. I am very attached to the role of local government, and I commend the role that it has played in rebuilding this country and its infrastructure. Historically, our local authorities were associated with water and sewerage services, but those have gone from their remit. Even the delivery of roads is now sanctioned by Transport Infrastructure Ireland. The delivery of housing has been diluted by the use of voluntary associations. Now all they are left with is the housing list. Even refuse collections are gone. They are responsible for amenities, including parks, libraries, and burial grounds, as noted.
The role of Cork County Council must be acknowledged. It has played its part in the greater good of Cork county over the past 100 years. This Bill is contradictory in its nature and purpose. I come from the county of Cork. There is talk of a balanced separation of city and county, yet there are people in other parts of the country, including Galway, who oppose amalgamation. The implementation group came about under a previous Minister, Deputy Kelly, and was followed through by his successor as Minister, Deputy Coveney. It is another example of where Deputy Coveney upped and left a mess, like with housing. He had promised that there would be no more people on the streets of Dublin by July 2017, but now he is gone and the Minister of State present is a sweeper, tidying up the problem he created.
There is a problem that must be resolved in Cork county. The mapping undertaken by the implementation group was questionable. The people who mapped Ireland 1,000 years ago had better co-ordination than the implementation group. Anyone flying over Cork could see the lack of co-ordination in the geography undertaken by this group. Deputy Cassells referred to international borders. What happened here was that once the likes of Cork Airport was inside the boundary, they did not care what way the boundary went in extending Cork city.
I will not dwell on the boundary but I want to raise the matter of compensation. It is dealt with in section 17. The Minister of State needs to tie down a commitment on this because I have no faith in Cork City Council following through on its commitments. I recall many years ago, when I was a member of Cork County Council, when this country was very well advanced in recycling, the local authority, supposedly in conjunction with the then Cork County Council, agreed that it would convert its landfill on Old Head of Kinsale into a recycling unit. We in Cork County Council facilitated a landfill in turn. There were major protests and we were landed with a bill of €30 million. Cork City Council never honoured its part of the agreement since. I urge the Government to tie down the question of compensation, the review and the indexation.
When people in Ballincollig in particular saw the Government's decision late last year to extend the boundary, they were taken aback. There was great surprise that it was proposed to extend the boundary so far west. There was also surprise in Blarney because they did not think it was necessary to extend that far. It was well recognised that it was necessary to extend the city boundary to allow it to grow, but for many people the biggest issue is that they feel they had no say in the decision, which they feel was pushed on them. They have many real concerns that must be addressed. For instance, people in business in Ballincollig are concerned whether rates or payment for parking will be introduced. People would like the Powdermills to be developed. Spike Island is a tourist opportunity. Similarly, they would like to see the regional park being developed. They want all this to be done right. They are worried that the city will not recognise these things. They want to have a say about these things and to be heard.
Some 400 services from the county will be transferred to Cork City Council. It is important that this is done in an orderly and timely way and that it does not drag on. After next summer's local elections, where people have been elected to City Hall and the city manager is responsible, who do people approach about services not being handed over properly? There needs to be a time limit and a proper, orderly transition made in the interests of the people in the area which is transitioning.
The point about the loss of resources to the council has been well made, with an estimated loss of €30 million. It is crucial that is made up to the county. The original understanding of the implementation group was that that type of payment would last far beyond ten years. However, the proposed legislation features a review as early as three years and a second only a few years after. Therefore, this funding could be gone within ten years, which is not adequate. It must be dealt with in amendments. There are many issues which concern people in Ballincollig and the area that will move, as well as people who are based further west.
They want to make sure that the county will not be disadvantaged. I will raise a number of those issues on Committee Stage.
As I prepared my remarks I reflected on the fact that the very first contribution I made at a Sinn Féin meeting after I joined the party was to ask a councillor what was the state of play with the expansion of the city boundary. That was in 2007. Talk of it has been rumbling on for years at that stage with little progress being made. I was informed by councillor Fiona Kerins that it was dragging on and unlikely to be resolved any time soon. That proved to be correct. I asked that question at the time because it was been discussed then and the boundary had always seemed to me to be nonsensical and completely out of date. When I looked into it years later as an elected representative, as a member of Cork County Council, that proved to be the case. The last boundary revision had been in the 1960s with that revision only going east and west. The northern and southern extent of the city dates from the 1940s. It dates from a time when Rochestown was a quiet village on the way to Passage West and when Grange, Togher and many other places were farmland. The status quo was unsustainable, and the possibility of no change would have been disastrous.
This clearly needed to be addressed, but it proved impossible over the years for the council to come to any agreement, under successive managers and sets of councillors. It proved necessary to operate via national policy and national legislation. At first, the proposal from the then Minister, Deputy Kelly, was a merger contained in the Smiddy report, which was followed by the McKinnon review, which ultimately proposed an expansion rather than a merger. I believe that was the correct decision. Sinn Féin, for its part, throughout this process has played a constructive, informed, active and pivotal role, which has significantly influenced the process. It may be speculation, but I suspect that if Sinn Féin was willing to accept a merger, the Government may not have instituted the McKinnon review. It became apparent after our opposition, as well as significant opposition from Fianna Fáil and some Independents, that it would not be possible to get legislation for a merger through these Houses. We were the only party that maintained a consistent position of opposition to a merger across both councils. We were firmly of the view that a merger of the city and county council would be disastrous. That was my view when I was a county councillor. It would have constrained the growth of the city and it would make no sense for a major city like that not to have independent local government of its own. By the same token, I do not believe that places in west, north or east Cork such as Adrigole, Shanballymore or Rockchapel would have benefited from an enormous so-called local authority for a population of 500,000 that would still, even in an unfocused way, have been driven largely from the centre. I do not believe it would have been in the interests of either city or county to have two competing sets of interests and priorities in that way. I strongly believe Cork needs two local authorities with two separate executive and two separate elected bodies in order to be in a position to provide services to a satisfactory standard and to focus on the differing priorities of city and county.
We believe that there is a need for a separate county council based on the core rural areas, the large county towns and market towns, with a strong focus on agriculture, agrifood, fisheries, rural development and tourism. It goes without saying that the focus and priorities of the county will be different from that of metropolitan Cork. We believe there is a need for a separate, strong metropolitan council, with considerable focus on industry, investment, urban services, transport with a focus on commuting, and a strong strategy for support of the areas in the commuter belt with a key emphasis on public transport. This will also need a joined-up strategy for retail and commerce, and ensuring there is a balance between adequate provision for industry and retail on the fringes of Cork city and, on the other hand, protecting and reinvigorating the city centre, which is a priority for all parties. Our city centre is a valuable and prized possession. A strong focused metropolitan council is the best vehicle to deliver this.
I note in Galway, where there has been a proposal for a merger, that it is the districts in more peripheral areas further from the city that are most opposed to the proposition of a merger.
Some of this is about coherent planning because the pattern for development, to a large extent, has already been set. The manner in which the city and its suburbs and nearby towns will develop over the next 20 years is already relatively clear. We already have a relative sense of what it will involve. The county council's plans have long foreseen development in the new areas. The towns outside the city, as they are properly called, are clearly under urban influence but I believe they can and must retain their own distinctive identity within an city council. That is a challenge for the city, and I urge the city council to engage properly with these areas coming in, to delegate decision making to the most local level possible, and to value and promote the separate identity and sense of self that these localities have. These are places such as Ballyincollig and Blarney but there also needs to be a focus on some of the urban villages that have been a little neglected such as Blackpool which has suffered from a lack of focus.
I also urge the city council to maintain some of the key programmes that have been a success in the county. Both councils have initiatives from which the other could learn. The city council should try to keep the best of what happens in these localities supported, and that includes local community funding.
It is clear that for the city, its suburbs and the outlying towns, the major development that will happen will be to the west of the city towards Ballincollig, Carrigrohane and to the east of the city towards Carrigtwohill. Regardless of who governs it, those areas will be significantly transformed. The key focus needs to be the infrastructure being put in place and coherent planning. There has been some talk in media circles and among some commentators that this expansion will lead to sprawl. On the contrary, it the last 20 years that has given us sprawl. There has been significant sprawl, perhaps too much, in some of the areas immediately outside the existing city boundary. If we are to develop the kind of density of development that we need to see, I expect that would come better from a single authority properly focused on the development and planning of an urban area of a city council. The most important element is that they are well planned and planned in a co-ordinated, sustainable way that is in the interests of those communities.
There is a big focus on Cork in Project Ireland 2040 and Cork is planned to be the fastest growing city in Ireland. There is only so much more growth that Cork can take if we keep asking people to travel everywhere in their cars. Cork city is already under serious pressure in terms of traffic. There is a serious need for investment in public transport. That should start with intensified bus services, including a bus rapid transit. We need to move in the medium term to having a light rail system. I recall a debate in January during which the Minister, Deputy Ross, promised me that the Cork metropolitan strategy would be published in February but we still have no sight of it, nor an indication of any sight of it. That needs to be progressed. Regardless of whoever governs, we need to ensure that people can live in sustainable communities that are not choked up by traffic and that attract further inward investment. We need to see that strategy published.
There are issues with this Bill. I note it is silent on the McKinnon proposal for a Cork economic development and planning board. Perhaps that is contained in the amendments to which the Minister referred and he might clarify that. That is quite curious. Our submission had a proposal that was not dissimilar, albeit it was proposed for the entire county rather than an area including the city and its surroundings. Our submission states:
there are aspects of our local economy, transport infrastructure, employment, and land use & population growth which are of concern and interest to us all. For example, the future of Cork Airport matters to ... [the entire region] , and we will all benefit from the Port of Cork reaching its full potential...
Sinn Féin proposes a County Wide, ‘Cork Strategic Authority’, above...County and City Councils.
That would be given...responsibility for areas such as...regional strategic planning...co-ordination of cross county local services...infrastructural planning...economic development [and] tourism...
[We felt] A Cork Strategic Authority would be a new start for Local Government in Cork, it would ensure two Local Authorities not in competition with each other, but entering in to a new area of cooperation, ensuring minimising of duplication, while retaining distinct identities...two financially sustainable entitles. The benefits of a merger, without the loss of identity, or reduction in Democratic Representation, loss of focus, and reductions in services we fear a merger would mean.
[We also] believe that it would set an example which could be followed in other Parts of the Country, and would be a potential solution to many [other] challenges facing other Local Authorities.
We were encouraged to see the proposal for a Cork economic development and planning board, but where is it in this legislation? The Bill only refers to a threadbare implementation oversight group. Will it be addressed later? The purpose of the economic development and planning board was more than just managing the transition expansion. It was also about enhancing co-operation and ensuring co-ordination on areas of shared interest and joint policy. The two local authorities have developed joint strategies in areas such as housing and tourism. The board would also be a suitable body for managing potential disputes about financial aspects. Where is it? Perhaps it might be included in an amendment on Committee Stage, but it was not referred to in the speech, although it would be the subject of a substantial amendment. I appreciate that there are time constraints. However, it is not quite ideal that we will be dealing with substantive amendments on Committee Stage on matters such as the plebiscite. It would have been preferable if the Bill published in the autumn had contained these details as it would have allowed for greater discussion and consideration. That being the case, we will engage on the substantial amendments on Committee Stage.
The other significant issue is finances. This legislation will not cover the quantum involved in equalisation. It does not govern the amounts that will be involved or the exact formulae which will be used. However, it does govern some of the frameworks such as timeframes for reviews, frequency of reviews, how disputes will be resolved, debts attached to assets, the transfer of assets and so forth. Careful consideration needs to be given to these matters. The framework at which we ultimately arrive in this legislation will have a significant impact on finances.
I have consulted the city and county councils, my other Cork colleagues and Deputy Ó Broin and we will be engaging on the basis of evaluating both sets of views. It has long been our position that there is a need for financial fairness which we proposed in our 2015 submission. There is a need for local equalisation. Responsibility for the administration of this formula would rest with the strategic authority which would review it periodically. This would allow both councils to set their own rate of valuation, taking into account the differing needs and commercial realities in both authorities, while also ensuring the county council would remain not only viable but well funded and prosperous on a permanent basis.
Concerns have been expressed by representatives in county council areas that there will be implications for these communities if the financial package is not arrived at properly. There are legitimate concerns which I recognise and acknowledge. There are also concerns on the city side. In reality, local government is generally underfunded, but these arrangements have to be got right. We are anxious that the Bill be fair to both local authorities. For our part in Sinn Féin, we will analyse and decide upon them based on our view that we need both Cork County Council and Cork City Council to be financially viable and that we have thriving and well supported communities.
Some concerns have been raised about the issue of county and city sheriffs and whether the legislation properly accounts for necessary changes in their powers. Will the Minister of State address that issue?
Cork needs to be a thriving city, county and region as a counterbalance to Dublin which is increasingly coming under pressure. The country needs this to complement Dublin, not to be a threat to it. To do this, we need strong independent and well funded local government, with significant capital investment in transport infrastructure and public transport. I hope the Government will prioritise these matters. If we get it right, this legislation will be important and assist. Committee Stage will be key, given the amendments on the financial framework. The planning board issue also needs to be reconsidered.
I thank my colleague, Deputy Ó Laoghaire, for giving the Minister of State an in-depth account, with plenty of notes. I am proud that I served on Middleton Town Council, the East Cork Municipal District Committee and Cork County Council. Team Sinn Féin in Cork County Council has put much work into this issue. I acknowledge all those councillors who have worked on it for the past year and a half. The Minister of State referred to new polling stations and arrangements. The Department took one out of Ballinacurra in east Cork a long time ago and we would like to have it back. Will he include that in his notes?
As we say in Cork, it is a Cork thing, but we need the Cork brand to grow. We also have to be conscious of those on the outskirts. In east Cork there was a concern in county boundary areas such as Youghal which is on the tip of County Waterford that they would lose out on local funding. As Deputy Ó Laoghaire said, we need to fund local government properly.
The Minister of State said he would bring forward amendments on Committee Stage on directly elected mayors. Compensation was referred to. It is like a single payment about which I am concerned. We have looked at the issue of equalisation and it is a fair and important point. It is like having our own Cork Brexit. We have reached the crunch point and now have to get down to the nitty-gritty. In this case, I hope it will not run to 700 pages. I hope we can get through it faster than they are across the water. It is important that we go through the legislation with a fine toothcomb. Committee Stage will be interesting. We need Cork as a brand to grow in order that it will complement the rest of the country.
I congratulate all those who have been involved in this exercise. It is only the start of the Minister of State’s job. As has been said, one will never see anybody hunting with a Labrador or a St. Bernard but keep an eye on the little terrier. We will be watching the Minister of State. I look forward to the deliberations on Committee Stage.
I hope this process is not the same as Brexit and that there will be more information available to the people of Cork than there was to people in Britain during the referendum.
I am not from Cork, but I have some experience of this issue with Limerick having gone through a process, albeit it was a little bit different than the Cork process and more like what is planned for Galway. This is something that requires a great deal of consultation and a great deal of public information must be provided. A lot of discussion must take place and the relative benefits for a city and county arising in these situations must be examined carefully.
I have consulted with my Labour Party colleagues, some of whom are based in the city and some of whom are based in the county, to get a sense of their concerns. They are similar to the concerns which have been expressed here already. Residents of places coming into the city council area, including Douglas, Glanmire, Ballincollig, Blarney and other suburbs, want a service delivery plan in order that they know exactly what will happen with the variety of services they have been used to receiving from the county council. The Minister of State has gone through some of the issues and they are complicated, in particular as they relate to planning. The Oireachtas Library and Research Service has kindly provided us with graphics and documentation around what exactly will happen where, for example, planning permissions have been granted by the county council but implementation will take place following the transfer to the city council area. While I have very little time tonight, I would like to go into that in a bit more detail when more time is available on another occasion. In particular, I would like to tease out some of what the Minister of State said about next year and the financial arrangements in that regard.
In the time I have left tonight, I make a general point about the importance of planning. While we are talking specifically about Cork now, there is a bit of a mismatch nationally in relation to our cities under the national planning framework. In Dublin, one has for local authorities. In Cork, one is going to have two. In Limerick, Waterford and Galway, there will be combined city and county councils. It is not very coherent on a national level. We need to put some thought into longer-term planning and what exactly we are doing about cities. In my own area, the city mayor might be from the back end of the country. While that is not the case this year, it has been in previous years. It does not make for a great degree of coherence. These are the kinds of issues which need to be looked at. I agree with what has been said about a counterbalance to Dublin. That must include a number of cities, namely, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford. I put in a word again for the M20 in that regard. The road linking Limerick and Cork must go ahead because the combined relationship across Cork, Limerick and Galway has real potential to be a counterbalance to Dublin. Obviously, that is a matter for broader national planning.
We must look at the broader context because things have been somewhat haphazard. We have been moving from one thing to another and trying to find a solution that works in different areas. For a long time in Limerick, we were talking about a boundary extension. We were talking about going into County Clare, which idea was abandoned very quickly. The Minister of State will know all the reasons why. Deputy Cassells has already outlined them. Things can look very different from one side of a line than from the other. That causes a lot of problems. It is not something which arises in the case of Cork but it certainly rises elsewhere. We need that broader view of what exactly we are going to do in future about coherent national planning, in particular in the context of preventing Dublin from swallowing up all of the opportunities at the expense of the rest of the country. That is not to leave out other parts of Ireland, including the south east and the north west, which often feel neglected. We have had broader planning debates in the House before. Tonight, we are speaking specifically about the Cork area, however.
We must also talk about directly-elected mayors. The Minister of State has indicated that he will be bringing forward amendments in that regard. In an answer to a parliamentary question from my colleague, Deputy Sherlock, it was indicated that it is intended to include provision for the holding of a plebiscite on the question of directly-elected mayors with executive functions in cities other than Dublin in the Local Government Bill 2018 to provide primarily for the alteration of the boundary between Cork City Council and Cork County Council. While that provision is not included in the legislation we are dealing with tonight, I understand amendments will be proposed on Committee Stage. It is a matter we need to tease out. We must look generally at providing more powers to local authorities. Other Members have spoken about the need for more funding for local government but the issue of powers is equally if not more important. All of these issues arise in the context of the Bill before the House. However, a lot of what needs to be done will have to be provided for by way of amendment because the provisions are not in the Bill as drafted. There are also issues regarding the number of public representatives in a given area. That is a matter of concern in the Cork context also.