Wednesday, 17 June 2015
I am pleased the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ann Phelan, is present given that she also has responsibility for rural affairs. The regeneration of rural areas and the ability to sustain farm families will depend on having in place planning rules, guidelines and laws that are appropriate, fair and balanced. I am concerned at what appears to be a blanket policy being pursued by the National Roads Authority on new developments, specifically regarding permission for new access points to national secondary routes. This policy is having a detrimental impact on farm families.
I speak on behalf of the sons and daughters of farmers who take over and operate a family farm and, understandably, wish to build a home. They find it increasingly difficult to obtain planning permission for a home where the farm adjoins a national secondary route. I am aware of cases where local authorities, in their wisdom and having taken into account all relevant factors, have decided, on balance, to grant planning permission and the National Roads Authority has successfully appealed the decision to An Bord Pleanála and had it overturned.
I am fully cognisant of the need to ensure road safety is at the core of any decision on planning. I would run a mile from any planning application if I believed it would compromise road safety in any way. However, the idea that all developments on national routes and all access to them will generate excessive traffic and create road hazards is not fully accurate. Those involved in policy in the National Roads Authority and local authorities who are demanding that sons and daughters of farm families build homes elsewhere should consider the road safety issues being caused by young farmers having to drive miles every day to reach their farms. What about the road safety issues that arise for a dairy farmer who must drive one or two miles to his or her place of occupation twice in a single night? Each case must be considered on its individual merits.
As a former member of a local authority, I worked on local development plans, which are, in the main, balanced and fair. It appears, however, that the National Roads Authority now rules the roost in terms of council decision-making on national secondary routes. I accept that the road works planned on some of these routes need to be taken into account. Given her responsibility for preserving, developing and defending rural areas, the Minister of State must speak to representatives of the National Roads Authority and local authorities to ensure decisions are fair and balanced. We must not have a blanket policy emanating from Waterloo Road or the Department. Each local authority, through its highly qualified road engineers, planners and directors of services, must be in a position to use its discretion with wisdom and caution.
If the Minister of State wants to succeed in regenerating and rebuilding rural Ireland, she knows as well as I do that, at a minimum, we must ensure strong farm families and farming communities are maintained. If one is fortunate or unfortunate enough to live adjoining a national secondary route, one's options from a planning perspective are very limited. I seek the Minister of State's assistance in this matter by taking a hands-on approach with the National Roads Authority and local authorities to ensure they show a degree of common sense.
I stress again my unwavering view that road safety must never be compromised. Nevertheless, it is possible to have regard to road safety and ensure families are accommodated from a planning perspective.
I thank the Senator for raising this important matter. I would like to assure him that I understand the pressures faced by those in rural Ireland regarding this issue. I thank the Senator for acknowledging that road safety is paramount.
The decision as to whether to grant planning permission in any particular case is a matter for the relevant planning authority, to which the Senator has referred, in the first instance, and for An Bord Pleanála in the event of an appeal. In making decisions on planning applications, planning authorities and the board must consider the proper planning and sustainable development of the area, having regard to the provisions of their development plan, any submissions or observations received and relevant ministerial or Government policies, including current guidelines issued by my Department under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended.
My Department's guidelines for planning authorities on spatial planning and national roads 2012 are aimed at ensuring that roads planning and policy and development planning and management processes are appropriately and effectively aligned and encouraging a collaborative approach and early engagement between planning authorities and the National Roads Authority so that transport and land use planning considerations are taken into account at the early stages of development plan and development management processes. This is to ensure that future development at locations on, or in the vicinity of, national roads is guided to the most suitable location and that work on Ireland's national roads network is planned for and managed in a complementary and integrated manner.
Section 2.6 of the guidelines outlines that, in exceptional circumstances with regard to the normal limitations on the provision of access for new developments to national routes, planning authorities may identify stretches of national roads where a less restrictive approach may be applied, but only as part of the process of reviewing or varying the relevant development plan and having consulted and had regard to the advice of the NRA in line with the approach set out in the guidelines. The guidelines were issued under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, and planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála are required to have regard to them in the performance of their functions.
It is, therefore, a matter for planning authorities to consider the implementation of section 2.6 of the guidelines in respect of sections of relevant national roads and in the context of its statutory development plan. I continue to keep the implementation of the guidelines under review.
I am glad to learn from the Minister of State that the guidelines for planning authorities on spatial planning and national roads 2012 appear to be at the centre of this debate. She said she is keeping the guidelines under review. Will she generate or open a new national debate on the guidelines or is it simply a matter of people contacting her directly to make suggestions? Will it be possible to amend the guidelines to try to deal with situations like those I have mentioned?
I note that the Minister of State said that planning authorities may identify stretches of national roads. However, the cases brought to me would not require a policy on a mile, a mile and a half or a two mile stretch of national road; rather, they are very individual issues and problems. Is there a capacity to bring individual cases to the attention of the Minister of State in terms of the guidelines? I know it is not her job and we have moved a long way from a time when the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government was responsible for making the final decisions on planning. It is now a matter for An Bord Pleanála.
If we have views or concerns about individual cases, how the guidelines impact on them and how a particular case should impact on the guidelines from an amendment perspective, can the Minister of State be informed? Can she make recommendations on such cases?
I remind the Senator that I have to be mindful of individual planning applications and the legal process around them. To try to be helpful to him, perhaps if he was able to document the individual cases to which he referred and tabled a Commencement matter for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport with the same questions he asked me, we could pool the information to determine whether we could develop some kind of review or something we could put to individual local authorities. Such an approach could bring to our attention how many such cases exist and whether the issue arises in other parts of the country or is an issue across the board. I would be very willing to work with the Senator on this matter if he felt it might be helpful.