Wednesday, 13 July 2022
Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2022 [Seanad]: Instruction to Committee
That it be an instruction to the Committee on the Planning and Development (Amendment) (No.2) Bill 2022, that:
(a) Standing Order 233(2) is modified to provide that the Committee has the power to make amendments to the Bill which are outside the existing subject matter of the Bill, in relation to:(i) the Valuation Acts 2001 to 2020 to enable the Commissioner of Valuation to defer the roll out of the national revaluation programme; and(b) Pursuant to Standing Order 187, the Committee has power to make amendments to the Bill which are outside the scope of the existing provisions of the Bill in relation to:
(ii) the Maritime Area Planning Act 2021, which amendments are technical in nature and include: amendments to Maritime Area Consent provisions; amendments of provisions for the early appointment of the Chief Executive Officer designate by the Minister ahead of the establishment of the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority (MARA); and amendments strengthening the enforcement provisions in the maritime area that will be available to MARA;(i) short term letting provisions in the Planning and Development Act 2000;and to change the title of the Bill, and for consequential amendment of the long title to reflect the content of the Bill, and make other consequential amendments required to take account of the changes above.
(ii) provisions concerning Ministerial directions regarding statutory plans and related provisions in the Planning and Development Act 2000;
(iii) provisions relating to flexibility in planning applications in the Planning and Development Act 2000; and
(iv) judicial review provisions in the Planning and Development Act 2000;
The purpose of this motion is to instruct the Dáil, in committee, that Standing Order 233(2) is modified to provide that the committee has the power to make amendments to the Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2022, which are outside the existing subject matter of the Bill and that pursuant to Standing Order 187, the committee has power to make amendments to the Bill which are outside the scope of the existing provisions of the Bill. This is required so that I can introduce Government amendments to the Bill on Committee Stage in the Dáil later this evening.
With reference to Standing Order 233(2), the amendments in question comprise amendments to the Valuation Acts 2001 to 2020 and amendments to provisions in the Maritime Area Planning Act 2021. With reference to Standing Order 187, the amendments in question to the Planning and Development Act 2000 relate to short-term letting provisions, provisions concerning ministerial directions on statutory plans, provisions relating to flexibility in planning applications and judicial review provisions.
A copy of the Minister of State's speech. I remind members to turn off their telephones, which includes my own; I am not looking at anyone in particular. I do not wish to delay proceedings. The speech will be here in a few seconds. We are under time pressure. I do not wish to delay proceedings.
This happens very often now, and has done since Covid, that Ministers arrive without a copy of the speech. The very least we should have is a speech, especially on something as rushed as this legislation.
The Deputy has made his point, which I endorse. There should be a copy of the speech. We will give the Minister of State a couple of more seconds and hopefully it will be here. It is very important. We must resume because this debate will stop at 10 a.m. and speakers will be deprived of time. The point has been made; the speech should be here. The Minister of State may continue.
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I apologise; my office is working on it and the speech will be here as quickly as possible. I will continue.
The purpose of the amendments to the Valuation Acts, 2001 to 2020, is to enable the Commissioner of Valuation to defer the roll-out of the national revaluation programme due to the unprecedented impact on the economy and the commercial property market since the beginning of Covid-19.
The proposed technical amendments to provisions in the Maritime Area Planning Act 2021 include amendments to maritime area consent, MAC, provisions, amendments of provisions for the early appointment of the chief executive officer designate by the Minister ahead of the establishment of the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority, MARA, and amendments strengthening the enforcement provisions in the maritime area that will be available to MARA.
The short-term letting amendments recognise the issue of the significant number of residential properties that, having been withdrawn from the long-term rental market in recent years, have instead been diverted for use as short-term lettings, and the associated negative impact this has had on the supply and availability of private residential rental accommodation, with associated knock-on implications for rental prices. Legislative amendments to the Planning and Development Act are, therefore, being brought forward to address this issue.
Since the April 2019 commencement of the Office of the Planning Regulator, OPR, a number of technical matters have come to light regarding the legislative procedures for progressing ministerial directions on statutory plans. Minor technical amendments to the Planning and Development Act are required to address cross-referencing, standardised wording, notifications and consistency in procedure, to benefit all stakeholders including local authorities and the wider public.
Amendments relating to flexibility in planning applications will address a recent High Court judgment concerning the design envelope approach in planning applications that require a degree of flexibility as the final details of the development may be unconfirmed at the planning application stage. The amendments will introduce a pre-application procedure to facilitate a subsequent planning application being made, incorporating flexibility in respect of certain specified details of the proposed development, while providing sufficient clarity to allow planning authorities to consider what level of information is appropriate on a case-by-case basis, while also providing appropriate safeguards for environmental assessment.
The amendments to judicial review provisions in the Planning and Development Act will require the courts to consider whether there is an adequate appeal or other available administrative remedy and if so, it should not grant leave for judicial review. It is also proposed to provide for an effective presumption that the matter can be remitted back to the board at the commencement of the legal proceedings so that errors can be corrected quickly, thereby avoiding delays associated with such proceedings.
I look forward to our debate on the motion, and I will do my best to respond to any specific questions at the end.
I wish to put on the record my objection in the strongest possible terms both to the motion and, more important, to the way these amendments have been introduced at a very late stage with virtually no possibility of Oireachtas scrutiny. That is not only a breach of proper procedure, but it is also treating this House and its Members with appalling disrespect. More important, it shows disrespect to the public, many of whom will be directly impacted by the negative and possibly unintended consequences of some of these amendments significantly.
The Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill is already controversial legislation. We should have had two and a half hours to deal with detailed Opposition amendments to that before concluding that Bill. Late last Thursday, we received 48 pages of amendments to an 18-page Bill. Those amendments cover six other legislative areas that have nothing to do with Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill relating to substitute consent.
One of the areas of potential amendment the Minister of State mentioned, which is the sanctions on platforms advertising non-compliant short-term lets, is a welcome move. I introduced a Bill to give effect to such a proposal, which was passed a few weeks ago. However, because we cannot scrutinise it, we do not know if something that is good in principle will be good in practice. For instance, the former Minister, Eoghan Murphy's, short-term letting regulations, which were also good in principle, turned out to be bad in practice. We do not have adequate time to scrutinise that. Other amendments relating to the Valuations Acts and the Office of the Planning Regulator are not controversial. The real problem the Minister of State will hear from all Opposition Members shortly relates to those amendments to judicial review and to design envelope flexibility for planning authorities particularly with respect to the Maritime Area Planning Act.
When technical and complex changes to planning law are introduced, the potential for negative impacts, unintended consequences or creating further confusion and uncertainty for applicants, third parties and the legal process is enormous. We have seen that year after year when similar last-minute changes have been introduced. That lack of scrutiny is real problem because we take our job as legislators seriously. Even when we are broadly supportive of something the Government is doing, we want to ensure that whatever we are asked to put our names to is fit for purpose and does what it says on the tin. We will simply not be able to do that in two and a half hours and deal with significant issues relating to substitute consent.
How many times have we seen profound changes to planning law have negative and unintended consequences? The strategic housing development legislation is a case in point. We were told the mandatory ministerial guidelines on building height and design standards for apartments were efficiency measures to streamline the planning process, but all they did was undermine public confidence in that process and lead to lengthy and complicated litigation that has been costly for the taxpayer as a result of dramatic increases in judicial review losses by An Bord Pleanála.
Some of these changes also move the goalposts where applicants or third parties are engaging in the judicial review process. Judges are now being mandated to make decisions that will have a significant impact of people's access to justice in line with European law and particularly with the Aarhus Convention. I have said this previously. We will be back here in a year or two and we will be saying we told the Government so, pointing out that it has not improved the process but in fact made it worse.
Some of these amendments are not even necessary. The idea of non-consequential amendments, as I understand it, is either to deal with small minor technical drafting things - we have a few of those and that is okay - or matters of great urgency. One could argue that the short-term letting regulations are a case in point.
I thank the Minister of State and departmental officials for providing us with a briefing on Monday. At that meeting I asked how many cases the proposed changes to judicial review proceedings will affect. We were told it was a very small number and they listed some of the types of cases that arose. I asked if there was any urgency in introducing these changes now particularly given that we will have substantial legislation reforming the Planning and Development Act and the judicial review proceedings later in the year. I was told there was not any urgency. I asked why they are being introduced now and the answer was the Attorney General said they could be. Lots of things could be but should they be? Absolutely not. The last time I checked the Constitution, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage was responsible for policy, not the Attorney General. The Attorney General provides legal advice, but the Government decides when to move forward.
This is, therefore, not about streamlining, improving or assisting much-needed offshore wind farm or good quality residential development. These changes will make things more complex, more problematic, more difficult for the public to engage with and more expensive for everybody. On that basis, I urge the Government to withdraw amendments Nos. 25 and 26 with respect to judicial review changes; amendments Nos. 12, 13 and 40 to 42, inclusive, with respect to the design envelope and planning authorities; and amendment No. 77 with respect to the design envelope and the Maritime Area Planning Act.
The design envelope is a good case in point. I am open to being convinced of the merits of that. If it is designed in the right way, it could be useful. However, the Minister of State has given us no time to consider whether this has been done in the appropriate manner and consistent with good planning practice in line with Irish, EU or international legal obligations. On that basis, I oppose the motion and urge the Government to withdraw those amendments. Let us get on with important business we have of the substitute consents legislation later today.
The Labour Party will oppose this motion. In recent weeks, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage has driven a coach and horses through the long-established process for bringing legislation through the Houses of the Oireachtas. He rammed through the mica redress Bill, and every Stage of the Electoral Reform Bill 2022 has brought complex and substantial amendments outside the original scope of that legislation.
Later today, 72 Government amendments made in the Seanad to the Electoral Reform Bill will be dealt with in 45 minutes of debate before going to the President for signature. It is an appalling way to make law that will determine the future of our democracy. Now the Minister is introducing, at a very late stage, six sets of complex amendments to the Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill that run to 48 pages. The original Bill was only 18 pages long and dealt with some technical issues. He will triple the length of the Bill with his new proposals.
One of the sets relates to short-term lettings. While potentially welcome, the Labour Party has warned for years of the need for stronger regulation of so-called Airbnbs. As far back as 2017, my former colleague, Mr. Kevin Humphreys, introduced a Bill to provide for a register of properties, with fines for those who do not comply. It is good to see the Government finally catching up now, five years later, but it should not be rushed through like this. There has been no scrutiny of the proposals at committee and no engagement with stakeholders or teasing out of how these new laws will work in practice. Many of the proposals being legislated for also relate to the Minister cleaning up mistakes previously made by proposals passed by this Government and its predecessor. Some of these are technical in nature and relate to ministerial directions and the OPR, flexibility in planning applications, maritime area planning and the Valuation Acts. What is not clear is why these could not have been progressed in the Seanad or introduced when the Bill was originally published.
The most controversial set of amendments relates to judicial review. It was the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage under Fine Gael, and supported by Fianna Fáil, that created the crisis in An Bord Pleanála and the avalanche of judicial reviews when it introduced the strategic housing developments legislation, bypassing the normal two-stage planning process. We warned at the time that this would result in a significant increase in court activity, and that has been borne out. There was no compelling reason to bypass local authority planning, as it has done nothing to speed up the planning process, and An Bord Pleanála was clearly not equipped to deal with the massive increase in large and complex housing developments that require local planning expertise. However, now, without any pre-legislative scrutiny or Second Stage debate, the Government is planning to limit the ability of people to take judicial reviews and even when the courts find mistakes made by An Bord Pleanála, it will allow it to fix its own homework to pretend it never happened.
Planning law solicitor, Mr. Fred Logue, has helped to highlight the problems with the Minister's approach. It effectively moves the goalposts for anyone who legally challenges a planning decision. He said in the Irish Examineryesterday: "Under European law, the system has to be fair, equitable and not prohibitively expensive." I wonder where the St. Anne's campaign would be now if this legislation had been in place before the campaign began. With the sudden resignation of the deputy chairman of An Bord Pleanála at the weekend, it is crucial that the Minister now fast-tracks the publication of the report by senior counsel, Mr. Remy Farrell, in full. It is essential that people have full confidence in the planning process and if the report reveals more systematic and seismic issues in An Bord Pleanála, they must be addressed. Transparency and fairness are the bedrock of any democracy, and trust in the planning system is vital.
The amendments being forced through raise serious questions about the crisis at the heart of our planning system. These changes raise serious questions of European law and constitutional concerns about the restriction of access to the courts. That is why we oppose the motion. If the Minister wants to understand why there are so many successful judicial reviews of planning decisions, it is because a dysfunctional Department and a willing Minister keep bringing forward last-minute legislation. The actions of the Minister also raise serious constitutional questions about the level of scrutiny afforded to our legislation. He has a proven track record now of bypassing the processes and Standing Orders of the House to get his plans put into law. Rushed law is bad law, and the Labour Party opposes this motion.
First, there are media reports this morning that one of the amendments is being withdrawn. Is that the case? Are any of the amendments being withdrawn? Perhaps the Minister of State will let us know in his concluding remarks.
I thank the Minister of State for clarifying that. I would have thought that the courtesy that should have been given to the Dáil is that we should have been told that in the opening statement rather than relying on media reports. That is just the latest in how this has been very poorly handled by the Government.
I oppose and object to the approach by the Government in the strongest possible terms. As Deputy Ó Broin said, we were told at the briefing on Monday, which took place after the deadline for submitting any amendments to the Government's amendments, that these amendments relating to judicial reviews only relate to a small number of cases and there is no urgency with them. Why, therefore, are they being rushed through in this manner? Why is no time being given for scrutiny? In fact, detailed scrutiny is needed because these are complex, detailed matters regarding planning and judicial reviews. Why is the Government and the Minister avoiding scrutiny of this? That is what we need to hear from them.
A deeply cynical approach is being taken. The original Bill is problematic in respect of the issues relating to substitute consent. The housing committee was asked to do its pre-legislative scrutiny of that as quickly as possible last September. It was concluded a long time ago and then the Bill appears to have just sat with the Government and appears to have been deliberately timed to come to the House right at the end of the legislative process. If that is not the case, why have we not heard any explanation from the Government? Then in a highly cynical move we get these 48 pages of amendments that are not consequential to the Bill. We heard from the Department during the briefing that many of them are not of an emergency nature and relate to a small number of court cases. It is welcome that amendment No. 25 has been withdrawn, but I call for amendment No. 26, which also relates to judicial review, to be withdrawn too. If the Government has seen sense and seen fit to withdraw amendment No. 25, it should do the same with amendment No. 26, which relates to similar issues in respect of judicial review, and just give the democratic process, the Oireachtas and the people of Ireland the courtesy of having it scrutinised and debated. If the Government is going to make profound changes in planning law, it should at least allow them to be scrutinised. Why not do that?
I also call for amendments Nos. 12, 13, 40 to 42, inclusive, and 77, which relate to the design envelope, to be withdrawn, again to allow time on that. There could well be merit in some of the proposals, but let us try to get them done right by having them scrutinised.
Regarding the changes in planning and judicial reviews, this is being done in the context of multiple allegations being made with respect to An Bord Pleanála that are currently under investigation and the reports on which have not been published. At the very time a key allegation is being made that there has been a concentration of power by a small number of individuals, that files were not randomly allocated and that a significant number of planning decisions in An Bord Pleanála were made by a tiny number of individuals with no explanation as to why they were allocated the files and why the files were not randomly allocated, the one safeguard people had in that respect over the past number of years had been their ability to try to hold An Bord Pleanála to account through the courts process. That has been a limited safeguard, incidentally. Most people and communities simply have not had the resources to exercise that. Some have, and in the cases where people have been able to do that, most of the cases were either conceded by An Bord Pleanála or won. It is in that context, with all those questions hanging over the board, that the Government is proceeding with amendment No. 26, even though amendment No. 25 has been withdrawn, and with other amendments that will curtail the ability of people to hold An Bord Pleanála to account. That is quite shocking.
All the wording about this in terms of flexibility, streamlining and so forth makes it sound as if these amendments are of no consequence when, in fact, they are profound. If the Government is going to make profound changes to planning law, it should do the people of Ireland the courtesy of not trying to brush them off as being merely streamlining or merely about flexibility. Do not treat people as if they do not understand what is actually afoot here.
People are well able to understand, when language is being abused and misused to try to brush off profound changes, that is not what is at stake here; there is much more at stake. I urge the Government to stop treating the people of Ireland with contempt and allow those who are elected to represent them to engage in proper scrutiny and detailed analysis of any changes to the planning law it is trying to bring forward that will have profound effects in this country.
This is no way to enact legislation. The President of Ireland has commented on it. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has analysed it and shown the vast bulk of legislation brought forward by this Government was brought forward in the last couple of weeks of December and the end of June and into July. Members of the Government and others in this House are quick to criticise poor process in other democratic countries, and countries where democratic norms have been eroded, but this is an erosion of the democratic process. Measures that seek to undermine judicial discretion in respect of court cases is also an erosion of judicial independence. If the Government wants to bring forward any amendments, it should withdraw everything that is now on the table, bring them back at a later stage to allow for scrutiny and await publication of the reports into An Bord Pleanála and the planning review.
This is incredibly sharp practice on the part of the Government. It makes a mockery of any sort of proper oversight of legislation. We had a briefing on Monday from officials on these 48 pages of amendments. These are substantial amendments in the areas of planning that will affect the rights of people to access justice through judicial reviews and will affect what is, broadly, a good objective as regards short-term lettings but, as others have said, the objective and the actual translation into legislation may not be the same thing. Everything of that sort needs to be scrutinised properly. I had to ask for an explanatory memorandum at that briefing. As with all legislation, we get an explanatory memorandum to try to translate what is often and, in this case, is, quite dense legislative language into relatively plain English so we can understand what we are looking at and voting on. I received this explanatory memorandum on these 48 pages of last-minute amendments from the Government to a Bill that is being guillotined so in reality we will not have time to look at and scrutinise it properly at 8:58 a.m., two minutes before the debate started. That is just an absolute joke. It is the Government laughing at the Opposition, and showing utter contempt for the legislative process, democracy and the public.
The amendments the Government is bringing forward are far outside the scope of the original Bill we started to deal with on Second Stage. If we tabled amendments that were anything even remotely similar in being outside the scope of a Bill, we would just be laughed out of court. They would be ruled out of order and would not be allowed. The Government, however, can do it by putting forward this motion, ramming it through and then guillotining the debate on the Bill later so we do not have proper time to scrutinise the amendments.
The substantial amendments that are of particular concern relate to planning matters and the question of judicial reviews. These are important issues. I wonder about the timing of the amendments. I suspect they result from lobbying by the private offshore wind industry. That is what I think. It has lobbied the Government to do this and that is why it is being done. It is so that industry can get flexibility in planning applications for offshore industrial wind turbines. In essence, the amendments amount to, from the perspective of planning and the public, buying a pig in a poke because they will give the industry the flexibility to apply for one development, but for the development it actually develops to be a different development. That is what the flexibility amounts to. The height and design of the wind turbines can change.
The Government will say there are safeguards and the industry has to show the different options and so on and so forth. All of that should be subject to serious scrutiny but in actuality we are dealing with a serious matter, namely, the ability of private developers because that is what we are talking about here - probably most particularly on these legacy projects or relevant projects as they are described - to be able to put in a planning application for offshore industrial wind turbines, where the public has to respond to a particular type of planning application. However, what is actually developed later may be something completely different and the ability of people to take judicial reviews against developments that are being applied for, which may affect them or the environment and so on, will then be limited. That is unacceptable.
I am sure the Government does not give a hoot that we think it is unacceptable. There is laughing. That is what it does at this time of year.
The Government is trying to make fools of people as it does every year at this time as we head towards the summer recess. It barrels through a deluge of legislation, and guillotines it to get through and smuggles in matters that, if they were scrutinised properly, could be of serious import and concern to people. We will not have the chance, and the public will have no chance whatsoever, to have any look-in on these issues or to express any opinion on them because they will be done and dusted before they get sight of them. That is pretty outrageous. For that reason, we have no choice but to vote against this motion. We will have two and a half hours to scrutinise these matters later, which include substitute consent issues, short-term lettings, judicial reviews and maritime area planning. There is no chance of any of that being scrutinised properly on Committee and Remaining Stages. It is pretty disgraceful, totally undemocratic and shows contempt for the public and this House.
I add my voice of concern to the fact that so many of these amendments are coming in at such a late stage and are very much outside the scope of the original Bill. At last week's Business Committee meeting, we allowed an extra hour for discussion and debate on the Bill but that was before these amendments came in. There is a case to be answered regarding why this is being done in such a ham-fisted way.
I agree with the amendments to the Valuation Acts and to short-term lettings. I also agree we need to do something about judicial reviews and having more inclusive and co-operative planning processes so we can do things quicker.
If we push through legislation in this manner, it will be like manna from heaven to the people who want to object and employ lawyers to bring this legislation through the courts. The fact that it has not been sufficiently scrutinised and is being put through the House in such a ham-fisted manner is a concern.
On planning and the examples of planning at a local level, Galway County Council has not had any pre-planning meetings for the last two years because the planning department does not have the resources to deal with pre-planning meetings. The reason is that the council has been starved of funding for a number of years. Council staff are now dealing with up to 90 applications per day. It is absolute mayhem. The planning department has a statutory process to go through and timelines to meet. The risk of making a wrong decision is there all the time when planners are working under pressure like that.
To be fair, we must start off by asking how we get our planning system right. We must ensure the local authorities have the resources required to deal with the planning applications. For example, Galway County Council does not employ an architect or ecologist. It is processing planning applications in a very seat-of-the-pants manner. Some applications are simple enough while others are highly complicated, with the result that there is a huge amount of confusion within Galway County Council as to how planning will be delivered. The very simple and basic pre-planning meeting is a must. We need to have such meetings. The only way to ensure we have them is for the Government to provide the funding for local authorities, such as Galway County Council, to enable them to employ the cohort of staff they need. That is very important.
We have to do something about objections and the issue of people appealing planning decisions to An Bord Pleanála. I will provide an example. The HSE was building a new community nursing unit in Tuam to replace the existing Áras Mhuire community nursing unit. The building was no longer deemed fit to house patients or long-term residents. Galway County Council granted planning permission for the development. An objection was subsequently submitted by an individual living in the midlands, whose ground for objection was the idea that the nursing unit should not be based in Tuam, but in Galway city. The objection was submitted to An Bord Pleanála, delaying the whole project for over seven months. Thankfully, An Bord Pleanála upheld the decision of Galway County Council and the project is now proceeding. Hopefully, it will be completed by the middle of next year. We must stamp out the practice of permitting vexatious objections.
There is also a problem with serial objectors who object to anything and everything. I do not know from where or how they are being funded, but they are creating mayhem in the planning system and An Bord Pleanála. I do not know what is behind it. I can see it in different aspects of projects that are being planned. Objections are being put in and we expect them to be put in. An appeal has to be based on merit or there must be something about the process or development, in particular, that the objector feels is not right. Objections cannot just be vexatious. It is too simple, currently, to put in an objection to a planning application on the basis that the objector does not like or is jealous of the developer or does not want to see a particular development in his or her neighbourhood. It it important we get this right.
On the flexibility of our planning system, one of the biggest areas affected by the lack of flexibility is housing. There are so many processes in our planning system that it is delaying the delivery of social housing. I am sure it is a frustration for the Department that houses cannot be built quicker. I spoke about the issue yesterday. It is important we build social housing as a matter of urgency. We should be able to fast-track the planning of social housing so that units can be delivered quicker. We cannot be looking for an opportunity to object to developments and shout about and ask for social housing to be built at the same time. We need to build social housing units. We must deliver them rather than just talking about doing so.
On flexibility within the planning system, I believe that if there is engagement within the planning system between the applicant and the planning authority, we will get better, more efficient planning and fewer objections because it will be done right. There has to be greater flexibility in that. There must be joined-up thinking regarding the objectives of a planning application when it is submitted. We must consider whether the planning, in principle, is good. If it is good, we must ensure that planning permission is granted in a way that meets the legal requirements.
There are many issues to consider here. As I said, I am concerned at the manner in which this legislation is being rammed through. I am concerned that Deputies have learned, through the media, that an amendment has been withdrawn, rather than being told about it by the Minister of State in his opening remarks in the Dáil. Perhaps the Minister of State was not aware that the amendment had been withdrawn. However, it is important that we are clear with one another as to what is going on.
I highlight how disappointed, shocked and upset I am at the manner in which the guillotine procedure is being used today. There is a lack of confidence in the whole planning system and the process around the granting of planning permission that is compounded by a number of factors. On top of everything else, the manner in which this legislation is being passed is going to further erode people's confidence in the system. If the Government seriously believes it is right and proper for us to come in here and to have less than one hour to debate, scrutinise and go through 48 pages of amendments, it is totally wrong. It is completely unfair. This is politics at its worst. The job of legislators is to go through legislation and amendments properly. I have no problem in the world with Members or the Government bringing forward pages and pages of amendments. However, we must be given the opportunity to go through them. The Government is not doing that.
There is a significant lack of confidence in An Bord Pleanála. Even though I would be entitled to do so, I will not go into the details of what I would refer to as the shenanigans of An Bord Pleanála. However, I wish to make this point on record. An inspector from An Bord Pleanála can go out and inspect a project, produce a report and put it before the members of the board. People might think that meetings of the board are well organised, convened and structured. They are no such thing. The meetings involve a few people turning up willy-nilly if they are on time. Meetings can take place at 7 o'clock or 8 o'clock in the evening. Members can be in whatever state they wish to be in because there is nobody there to scrutinise or oversee what they are doing. An inspector can lay a proper report before the board. If there are three people attending the meeting, including two board members and the inspector, the two board members can reject the inspector's report and overturn the findings of it. These board members may have never been in the county, town or village of the planned development that is up for discussion. The members may not have read the inspector's report. However, if they do not like the individual developer or something about them, they can overturn the decision of the inspector. How can that be right and proper?
I am a member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage, along with other colleagues who are present. The manner in which these amendments have been brought before us at such short notice, with the use of the guillotine procedure, is another insight into the state of the Government. I am involved in a lot of planning in County Limerick. The granting of planning permissions in the county is being held up by serial objectors. There is also a lack of clarity in the process.
Businesses that have put structures on their premises during the pandemic still have not get clarification as to whether they are exempt even though special circumstances pertained. SMEs and other companies that put up solar panels to bring down their electricity costs still do not have clarity on the size of array they may have. On the lack of infrastructure, local development plans now specify that there will only be development in areas where there is infrastructure. That wipes out two thirds of County Limerick because the infrastructure in the county is at its maximum capacity. Under the new housing regime, the Land Development Agency is only going to build in Limerick city and in towns and villages that are within 15 minutes of it because of transport issues. This again takes out two thirds of Limerick. There has been a massive surge of planning permissions in County Limerick but no houses are being built because of cost inflation and the lack of builders. Planning permission should be granted to any person who wants to return to their home locality whether on a site they own or within their home town or village. It is the responsibility of the Government to ensure the infrastructure is in place to allow people to return home. That is how planning permission should operate to ensure the future of the people of Ireland.
I want to voice my opposition to the ramming through of this very important motion this morning, when only a handful of Deputies will get only a couple of minutes to talk. We certainly did not get time to deal with all these extra amendments. I am sure they will adversely affect many people who are trying to create employment. Ramming this through without any proper scrutiny reflects poorly on the Minister of State. Deputies are being denied the right to properly scrutinise what will be voted on here later. It is being rammed through by the Government and that is totally and absolutely wrong.
One of the things that worries me is the denial of a right to judicial review. No one took a judicial review lightly because they are very costly but the option was there. It worries me that the Government is going to deny certain people the right to seek a judicial review. I am also very worried about the utterances of the Planning Regulator with regard to the county development plan passed in Kerry. The broad view of the councillors when discussing the plan was that people in Kerry did not want turbines close to their houses. I am worried that this Bill will in some way override the view and voted policy of Kerry County Council with regard to planning for wind turbines. It was the council's view that Kerry has more than its fair share of turbines and that there was nowhere left for them that was not close to houses.
It is shocking that we are discussing a motion to allow the Government to table a set of amendments covering more than 50 pages to a Bill that is to be dealt with later on today. It is mind-boggling when you say it like that. The contempt the Government shows for this House really is shocking.
Yesterday, we saw a Bill rushed through to enable the ratification of a treaty we signed 50 years ago. This treaty regarding outer space was only moved for ratification yesterday. There must be something coming up in that regard if the Government wanted to make sure all the i's were dotted and all the t's crossed to prevent any challenges.
This motion is being moved today without any amendments even being taken. The Government really does not care about democracy. It will railroad these changes through anyway. Some of these amendments have been around since last summer so there was plenty of time to move a Bill but I do not think the Government wants people to see what it is at. That is why these amendments are being pushed now. It is because there will be no scrutiny of them as there physically is not time. The Government will push them through, which shows a shocking disregard for this House, the democratic process and the citizens of this country.
To add insult to injury, the Minister of State arrived in the Chamber without copies of his speech. We have to wait for these to be delivered. We then find out from Deputy Cian O'Callaghan that amendment No. 25 has been withdrawn. I would say the Minister of State knew that because he answered very quickly that it was withdrawn but he was not going to tell the House before this debate. We were having a debate on these amendments but the Minister of State was not going to tell the House that one of them was not going to be put forward. That says a lot about the process and about the Minister of State and his Government's view of it. What is really shocking with regard to this legislation is the way the Minister of State views the whole thing.
Obviously, it is about hiding things. One of the amendments relates to judicial review. I am looking at some of the statistics. In 2020, An Bord Pleanála decided 2,600 cases, of which 83 or 3% of the total number of applications went to review. The Government's proposals will benefit that 3%. It would be very interesting to look at who makes up that 3%. I am sure it includes big-money developers. That is who the Minister of State's Department and Government represent. They are the only people who benefit from this. Some Members spoke about the number of cases that go to judicial review. I am no legal expert but, as far as I know, the courts determine whether legal processes were followed before they allow a judicial review to be taken as these reviews are taken on legal matters. The court therefore recognises that there is a prima faciecase that the legal processes and the law were not properly followed. If An Bord Pleanála and the planning authorities actually followed the law and did what it says, there would not be judicial reviews because they would not be allowed to be taken in the first place. People could apply for them but they would not be allowed to be taken because the law was followed. That would say a lot more.
If the Minister of State wants to make the planning process work properly for people, he should push a system whereby developers are required to obtain consent. There are three parties in the planning process, namely, the developer, the planning authority and the community that has to host the development. If they were all treated equally and with respect, an awful lot more planning applications would go through the process with the consent of the people. That would do an awful lot to streamline the planning process under the Acts. However, it is not in the Minister of State or the Government to do that because they represent private developers and money. That is what they are all about. Unfortunately, that is also what all of this is about. These amendments will be rushed through today and this Bill will be law tomorrow without any scrutiny. That is what the Minister of State wants and what he is going to achieve.