Dáil debates

Thursday, 10 March 2022

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Planning Issues

2:50 pm

Photo of Michael MoynihanMichael Moynihan (Cork North West, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I sincerely thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to discuss this issue, which arises when community groups, particularly those in rural communities, come together in a voluntary capacity to develop community facilities. There should be an open door policy on the part of the Departments down to the local authorities in regard to developments proposed by community groups. From my experience, it has been very frustrating for community groups in the way they engage with the planning regulations.

They have to jump through hoops to get planning for a community group or very small community facility. There is so much red tape. Much of the time community groups come together and have no resources. They look for funding from other mechanisms to try to fund projects. They must come up with matching funding, whether from volunteer labour or from the communities themselves by having to raise funds, which is a difficult thing to do.

They see the regulations they must go through in terms of environmental and ecological consultants. In terms of planning itself, reports by architects, who much of the time, may be working voluntarily for the community, must be provided but, on top of that, professional reports by archaeologists, ecologists and so forth must also be provided. They are hugely cumbersome for community groups.

Community groups come together to try to do something in a meaningful way and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, which oversees planning, should recognise that they should be encouraged. There should be a clear pathway as to how they do their business and how they are accommodated within the planning system.

We are not talking about willy-nilly planning or anything like that. We are talking about planning for community groups. We quite often see their frustration when they are met with large bills when to try to get consultants in to do something that is minuscule in the overall planning scheme of things. The Department should look at this and there should be priority in terms of small community groups planning relatively small developments. There should be a clear policy.

Departments are well used to issuing guidelines to local authorities and asking them to look at things. Clear guidelines should be issued by the Department on how to address and encourage these community groups. They are putting in facilities for everybody. Only for these community groups coming together in a voluntary capacity, many of these facilities would never be built. They come together but end up not having a clear pathway and being frustrated by the system. It is time the Department looked at it and issued clear guidelines for the entire the country, not just for rural Ireland but for urban Ireland as well in order that specific reference is made to volunteer and community groups which are providing for their greater community.

3:00 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank Deputy Moynihan very much. This is an interesting one.

Photo of Martin HeydonMartin Heydon (Kildare South, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

It is an interesting one. I can most definitely empathise with Deputy Moynihan's points regarding the importance of community facilities.

I am taking this response on behalf of my colleague, the Minister of State with responsibility for local government and planning, Deputy Burke. The title of this Topical Issue matter was picked up and taken by the planning department. The points raised by the Deputy, however, are much broader than the planning aspect necessarily. I accept completely what he said. I am not going to read response I have here because it talks about public consultation. I think the Department misinterpreted the point the Deputy was going to make or sought to raise on this Topical Issue matter.

The Deputy highlighted not-for-profit community organisations that provide resources for local people and communities and, in doing so, they should be aided and assisted by the State insofar as we can. While planning is one part of that, when we look at the different guises in which they might get that State funding and support, it tends to come with conditionality.

With many streams of State funding, the initial core funding for many of these projects tends to be to get them to a point where they have carried out a feasibility study and detailed design but, at the end of that first lot of money being spent, construction has not started. We do not have that physical building. The second part is the shovel-ready element. We have to get the balance right between supporting communities to deliver what is needed and ensuring what is delivered is right, but not overdo the bureaucracy.

I am very minded that this Topical Issue matter could just as easily have landed on the desk of, let us say, our colleague, the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Humphreys. Her Department manages Our Rural Future through the town and village renewal scheme and community enhancement grants, which are obviously on the smaller scale. That is the funding body for many of these elements. One could also say that sports capital grants are an element of this because sports clubs, by their nature, provide these community facilities as well. Conditionality will always come with the sports capital money but that is something the Department is very good at navigating through. I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, could talk at length on that element.

The Deputy made broad points, however. Whether it is through LEADER funding or otherwise, there is conditionality with all this funding. We, as a Government, have put in place much funding here, as well as in the urban side. The €2 billion in urban regeneration funding has been in place for some time. We had the urban regeneration and development fund, URDF, which the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, announced last year. That was a really significant investment across those larger urban areas. Some of the linkages of that were going into community groups as well.

The Deputy's point is a valid one, however, in terms of a whole-of-government approach to ensure we support community organisations to deliver what is needed. The community facilities the Deputy talked about are so important to our rural communities. I will bring his points on the planning side back to the Minister of State, Deputy Burke, but the points he raised are broader than that one Department. If he has specific examples in terms of blockages he has found in his constituency, I am happy to hear them and perhaps debate them further.

Photo of Michael MoynihanMichael Moynihan (Cork North West, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I have specific examples. I am mindful of the parliamentary regulations not to comment on or criticise any person or entity so I will respect that. We looked at this from the ground up. There should be recognition from the planning department and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, right across the Departments and down through to county development plans, that what we need here are clear guidelines on how community groups should be looked at and engaged with.

We engage with community groups in the very same as we do with large commercial entities. It is the same planning policy, regulation and detail. There should be clear guidance from the Department to local authorities around community groups. There are regulations in terms of agriculture, houses on farms and different things. There are clear guidelines along the way but there should be a clear guideline in recognition of the voluntary capacity in which people who set up voluntary and community organisations and do tremendous work go about their business. There should be clear recognition from the State to say we applaud the work that is done by voluntary and community groups, and that we are making a provision within the planning regulations to ensure these people are guided and helped through it and do not end up in a bureaucratic and legislative cul-de-sac. There should be clear guidance that local authorities and, indeed, Departments have to work through. There should be clear guidance and help from the State to all community and voluntary groups. They are ultimately providing a service for the State for the benefit of its citizens.

Photo of Martin HeydonMartin Heydon (Kildare South, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Again, I thank Deputy Moynihan for raising this important topic today. I concur and I will bring these points back to the Minister of State, Deputy Burke, and his officials in the planning department. There should be uniformity of approach here. Community groups looking to go through the planning process to deliver a community facility should not have different experiences depending on what local authority they are in or the mood or approach of the relevant chief executive, director of services and officials throughout that local authority.

It is, therefore, really important that we support them and that community groups are not necessarily put through the same rigours as big industry or a commercial entity in trying to deliver. Community groups are volunteers. They generally tend to have thrown their own day jobs. Sometimes, the onus on them can be considerable to deliver something that is not for any material gain to themselves but to the broader community. The point the Deputy made is a valid one. I will bring it back to the Minister of State and highlight those points.