Seanad debates

Thursday, 1 April 2010

1:00 am

Photo of John MoloneyJohn Moloney (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)

I thank Senator Ó Domhnaill for raising this matter. The issue of so-called head shops is one the Government is addressing in a co-ordinated and multifaceted manner. I welcome the opportunity to outline the actions that are being taken. I accept the points made by the Senator and wish to indicate that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, and his officials are already involved in consultations with the planning authorities in respect of this matter.

At the request of the Minister of State with responsibility for drugs, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has been working with the Departments of Health and Children, Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Enterprise, Trade and Employment to develop recommendations for Government on the best way forward in devising an overall response to the issue of head shops. From a health perspective, the Minister for Health and Children has begun the process of prohibiting, under the Misuse of Drugs Acts, the sale of certain substances commonly sold in these shops. This control on the sale of such products is similar to the approach followed in a number of other European countries. This is particularly appropriate because these products are also sold via the Internet.

In so far as the planning system is concerned, planning permission is generally required for any new development or for the change of use of any existing development. The planning regulations provide, however, that changes of use within certain classes of use are exempted development and do not, therefore, require planning permission. One of these classes is "use as a shop". The planning code does not differentiate between head shops and any other kind of shop. The definition of "shop" contained in the planning legislation refers to a structure for the retail sale of goods. The nature of such goods is not defined.

While the planning system cannot be relied upon as a vehicle for regulating moral matters, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is considering, in consultation with planning authorities, whether the planning system could make a sufficiently effective contribution to resolving the issue of head shops through, for example, the introduction of a more restrictive approach to the change of use provisions under planning legislation. Specifically, where a control system is in place under the Misuse of Drugs Acts on products sold on these premises, there may be scope in assessing the merit in amending the planning regulations to require planning permission to be sought for a change of use to sell such controlled products. In this context, it should be borne in mind that, even if the exempted development regulations were amended to address this issue, a planning authority would only be able to consider the land use and planning issues arising from the application for a change of use such as the extent and physical appearance of the building, traffic implications, opening hours and other related planning matters. An application for permission could only be refused where there were good planning grounds for refusing them. Furthermore, any change in the exempted development provisions would not be retrospective and would have no effect on any existing head shop in operation.

Nonetheless, it should also be noted that a planning authority has power under section 84 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 to prepare a scheme for an area of special planning control within a designated architectural conservation area and such a scheme may contain provisions regarding the control of any new or existing uses of buildings within the area. However, if the planning authority serves a notice on the owner or occupier of a building, requiring the existing use to be discontinued or made subject to conditions, it may be liable to pay compensation for any reduction in the value of the owner's or occupier's interest in the property concerned.


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