Dáil debates

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Vacant Sites

3:25 pm

Photo of Frank O'RourkeFrank O'Rourke (Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the Ceann Comhairle's office for selecting this Topical Issue matter and thank the Minister of State, Deputy English, for giving the time to come before the House to discuss it with me. I also wish to use this as an opportunity to acknowledge the Minister of State's co-operation in this regard in helping to deliver the funding to progress the much-needed second bridge for Celbridge. The local authority was awarded funding for this some months ago through his offices and his Department. This would help to bring the second bridge to Celbridge with ring roads, which are much needed in Celbridge to avoid the current traffic congestion and delays, all the way from concept through to design and tender. I acknowledge the Minister of State's positive work with me and Deputy Durkan in this regard. I want to put that on the record of the House.

I am disappointed I have to bring this issue before the House again. This is the third or fourth time we have been here looking for the support of the Minister of State and his officials in the Department in progressing this master plan for this area of Celbridge. It was identified through the local area plan recently as an area of key and strategic development. What I am looking to do, on behalf of the people of Celbridge, is get the Minister of State's support in engaging, communicating and liaising with the local authority to progress this master plan in order that the area can progress and develop, as I said, as an area of key development.

Looking back over the record of the House from previous occasions on which we discussed this, it is important to recap what we are talking about. This site is right beside Hazelhatch train station. It is less than a five-minute walk from the primary school in the area, St. Patrick's national school, the sporting clubs and the site the Department of Education and Skills owns, which is identified for two if not three schools to be built over the short to medium term. The Department has acknowledged it will use not only that site but also a site off Shinkeen Road which is progressing at present for development of schools, such is the need in the area. The site is also extremely close to the M50 and on to the M7, M8 and M9, so it is in quite a good location.

The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has acknowledged that the Kildare rail line, serving Hazelhatch and Sallins, is a priority in the context of the allocation of the new rail carriages that are due to be delivered in 2021. The train line has also been identified for electrification, and that process will commence in 2022. It is all positive and it is the reason this area has been identified as an area of key strategic development for residential, commercial or whatever type of development is decided on by the governing local authority.

The stakeholders and landowners want to engage with the local authority and do the master plan in partnership with that authority. We should remember that in the previous local area plan, it was agreed a master plan for this land would be formulated before the expiry of the local area plan. The next local area plan for Celbridge is due in less than two years. We know the local authority has stretched resources and the Minister of State knows this from engaging with it. It needs support and the template identified here has been used in many different counties, including Kildare. There is nothing wrong with the suggested template, as the local authority would be the supervising body working in partnership to see what is critical for the site.

Unfortunately, nothing is happening and there is no progression. That is the reason I brought this matter before the House. This is important to Celbridge, where there is much land zoned for development in the recent local area plan but very few areas can be developed before we get the much-needed infrastructure. The Minister of State allocated funds in that regard earlier this year. Other lands cannot be developed until the infrastructure is in place.

3:35 pm

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the Deputy for raising this important matter relating to housing and community development in Celbridge, the wider Kildare region and other areas. I am from Meath and many in the Chamber today are from Kildare, so we all understand the pressures being felt in our counties. We also know how a lack of master plans led to developments that were not exactly what we wanted in many cases, and in some cases there was overdevelopment. In general, I am in favour of master planning well in advance. I have said it before during these debates that this is something we should encourage. I will address the matter before me but as a Department we encourage local authorities to plan ahead on the use of such land.

I remember there was much scrutiny of the local area plan for Celbridge at the time and it was clearly mentioned that this land is targeted for long-term growth. I cannot believe two years have passed since we had all those debates about the local area plan. It is important to scrutinise such matters and I thank the Deputy for raising this to allow me the opportunity to discuss the advancement of housing development in Celbridge and the continued planned growth of this important town in tandem with the supporting infrastructure and amenities required. I am glad there has been some progress with the various infrastructure projects as well.

The Celbridge local area plan for 2017 to 2023 was adopted by elected members in August 2017 and came into effect on 14 September 2017. I welcome the fact that the plan supports the provision of substantial new housing development in a key urban area close to Dublin. Kildare County Council, in its current county development plan, has earmarked Celbridge to grow in population by approximately 10,000 people over the next five to ten years. We need to plan for this increase and to ensure Celbridge grows in a coherent fashion with the timely delivery of the new infrastructure that will be needed for this expanded population. In fairness, there was a link in the plan between infrastructure and development and it is important that they are planned together. We must tick all the boxes and progress has been made on the various pieces of infrastructure. The bridge is a key point and I am glad that project is moving on as well.

I welcome the provisions in the plan that will enable future housing growth on the southern side of the town in proximity to the existing commuter rail station at Hazelhatch. This development strategy is consistent with established national and regional planning policy, which encourages new housing accessible to such high-quality public transport facilities in the interest of sustainable development. On the lands adjacent to Hazelhatch train station, I understand that the local area plan did not identify them for immediate development due primarily to flood management issues. I understand Kildare County Council has engaged consultants in order to address the issue with a final report due early next year. The plan indicated these lands were not for immediate development but we did stipulate they should be considered for future growth. The Deputy referenced this and I have checked it. I understand a report on the flooding issues is due in January or February, and the Deputy might know more about that than me. It will enable us to look at those lands at an appropriate time and develop a master plan. We certainly encourage that. Timelines for delivery and prioritisation are a local authority decision. This specifically relates to what lands become available and at what time. We encourage master planning and we are happy to work with authorities. I have referenced this before and I can say it again.

Notwithstanding this, the local area plan also identifies the key pieces of strategic infrastructure that are required to be delivered as part of the planned new housing development areas. The phasing arrangements set out in section 13 of the plan include requirements relating to the provision of new road, bridge, open space and other facilities that will support the new homes in being constructed. Design briefs are also provided for the five key development areas earmarked for future housing development, which will further assist in ensuring the construction of quality residential neighbourhoods that are integrated into the existing urban fabric of the town.

Many pieces of the jigsaw seem to be coming together and it is important that we keep adding to the process. As part of the roll-out of the local area plan and in the interests of supporting the integrated development of housing within that plan, Kildare County Council is committed to preparing a transport mobility management plan to support the sustainable growth of the town. State agencies, my Department and the National Transport Authority will be active in their support of the development of such a plan, which will inform future infrastructure delivery. This will facilitate proper timing of master plans, etc. This is something on which we can work.

Photo of Frank O'RourkeFrank O'Rourke (Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister of State for his detailed reply. I refer to two of his comments. First, there is no key infrastructure required for the progression of this site because of its location. As I mentioned earlier, it is beside services such as a train station and motorway so no key development is required. The site could progress and it is not solely dependent on the second bridge and ring roads. We need those in Celbridge urgently but this location is not completely dependent on those projects.

Second, on the flooding issue it is worth noting I have engaged with the Minister of State's colleague, Deputy Kevin Boxer Moran, whose Department has allocated funding to the local authority, which in turn carried out flood alleviation works in the area over the past two years. Senior officials in the Department, along with the local authority, feel those issues have been addressed and dealt with fully. However, as a final piece to the jigsaw, they have agreed to fund a final detailed study, which is currently under way and will be completed just after Christmas. This is to ensure there are no other possible causes of flooding in the area. Technically speaking, there is no expectation of such flooding. The flooding issue has been almost fully, if not fully, dealt with.

A master plan will not be done overnight, as the Minister of State and his officials know. In light of everything that is positive here, will the Minister of State and his Department engage with Kildare County Council and stakeholders? Will he write in support of the master plan in order to progress it for this key area of development? It will eventually deliver housing, if that zoning is agreed through the normal statutory process, as the location beside these services has been identified through the Department , the local authority, the municipal district and the public as an area of key development for delivery of housing, etc. I hope we will not have to bring the matter before the House again and that the Department can send some correspondence to the local authority in support of this development for Celbridge. This will answer many of the problems caused by the current housing crisis.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

To be clear, the Department supports logical and sequential planning, as well as master plans for areas. The process exists where a local authority can appoint a planner to work with a team of people to develop a master plan that can maximise resources. It is something we certainly encourage. We have no problem corresponding with Kildare County Council in offering that support but we cannot instruct any local authority to develop any parcel of land or assign priorities to individual sites. It is in its own plan to do this so we support such action because we believe in it.

It is something we have discussed with the Office of the Planning Regulator. We have asked the new regulator, Mr. Niall Cussen, to engage proactively with local authorities. He has done it with Meath when it brought forward a development plan. Part of the job is to oversee the implementation of local area plans, which makes sense. I will correspond with Kildare County Council through the Department offering our support and any resources it needs. I will not tell the council what it must do as that is its job but we can certainly offer support and work as best we can.

The focus should now be on all the stakeholders, including the council, local businesses, State agencies and the wider community in implementing the Celbridge local area plan. I confirm that my Department and I will continue to work proactively with Kildare County Council in this regard on infrastructure delivery and sustainable urban development. The train station is there and there are lands that have been identified for development around that as well. We are also ready to work with Kildare in tackling the wider infrastructure delivery challenges to be addressed so as to ensure Celbridge can play a full part in delivering the core strategy of the Kildare county development plan and implement the full range of housing and planning policies available to it.

Certainly, it is something we would encourage and we will work on that as well.

I did not get to mention earlier about my Department's allocation of the rural development fund towards technical assistance in the development of the Kildare County Council Celbridge southern relief road and second Liffey crossing proposal. This demonstrates our commitment to ensure that Celbridge is supported with appropriate infrastructure to accommodate growth and development in the area. I know that Deputy O'Rourke and Deputy Durkan pushed hard to ensure that happened, but it makes for good logical planning as well and I am glad we could do that. It makes sense now.

I repeat that the jigsaw is coming together. What the Deputy is asking for makes total sense with the master plan. I will certainly get our Department to correspond to support that as well.