Wednesday, 7 February 2018
Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016: Second Stage
The main background to this important Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016 is the Final Report of the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments, otherwise known as the Mahon tribunal, which was published on 22 March 2012. The Bill is therefore primarily intended to give legislative effect to the planning-related recommendations of the tribunal report, providing for the establishment of a new independent office of the planning regulator, OPR, the statutory underpinning of the proposed new national planning framework as a successor to the 2002 national spatial strategy, and other updates to the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, that are necessary to deliver greater transparency, efficiency and integrity in the planning system, including giving legislative effect to all further planning-related recommendations of the Mahon tribunal report.
As outlined, the main overarching objective of the Bill is to provide for the establishment of a new independent office of the planning regulator whose key functions will be the following: evaluate and assess local authority development plans, variations to development plans and local area plans during their preparation, including proposals on land zoning; make statutory observations and recommendations on the content of such plans and strategies, as appropriate to the relevant local authorities and regional assemblies, with a view to ensuring that the plans or strategies set out an overall strategy for the proper planning and development of the area concerned which is consistent with national and regional policies and objectives; undertake reviews of the organisation and systems and procedures used by planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála in the performance of their functions under the planning Acts; and undertake research and conduct programmes of education and training - including for elected members and officials of planning authorities - to underpin the principles of proper planning and sustainable development. The core key function of the OPR - evaluating and assessing local plans end regional strategies - will also enable the regulator's office to make recommendations to the Minister on exercising the pre-existing ministerial direction powers under the Planning Act to ensure that a plan or strategy sets out an overall strategy for proper planning and sustainable development for the area concerned.
The establishment of this new office to oversee the development plan process and the planning system generally will add another layer of sophistication to the institutional arrangements within the planning system with a view to ensuring that the overall integrity of the system is preserved and, where possible, enhanced. In this regard, it is important that we learn from past well-reported experiences in the planning system, which gave rise to the establishment of the Mahon tribunal, and that we endeavour to ensure that they are not repeated in the future.
A properly functioning planning system is absolutely critical to the ongoing development of all parts of the country and to ensuring that development takes place in accordance with the principles of proper planning and sustainable development, namely, that development takes place in the right locations, in the right way and at the right time to meet the needs of people while simultaneously protecting the many qualities of the natural and built environment. That is the primary purpose of the planning system and, accordingly, it is important that the highest standards are applied by, and adhered to, at all times by all parties engaged in the planning system including planning authorities, public bodies, the construction and development sector, professional practitioners, private interests and the general public in the interests of the overall common good. A well-functioning planning system which responds to the needs and demands of society will also be critical to setting the proper planning basis for many of the actions in Rebuilding Ireland, the Government's Action Plan on Housing and Homelessness, as well as for the national planning framework and the associated ten-year national capital investment plan, both of which are quite topical at the moment and due to be published in the coming weeks.
The planning system impacts on many aspects of our daily lives and therefore we need to ensure that it operates in the manner intended so that it can deliver quality in planning outcomes. The proposed establishment of the OPR, as recommended by the Mahon report, represents a fundamental reform to the planning system and that is why I regard this as an important Bill.
The Bill contains 36 sections and four Parts in total and, together with four Schedules, sets out the necessary provisions to give effect to these measures and related matters. I will now turn to the sections and Parts of the Bill in more detail. Part 1, sections 1 to 3, inclusive, contains standard provisions dealing with such matters as the Short Title, commencement, interpretation, and provision for expenses.
Part 2, comprising section 4, provides for an extensive amendment to the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, by inserting a new Part IlB therein to provide for the establishment of the office of the planning regulator. That is the most significant part of the Bill. This new Part, comprising the insertion of new sections 31K to 31AX into the Act of 2000 contains four chapters which provide for preliminary and general office of the planning regulator matters, the arrangements relating to the establishment, organisation and staffing of the said office, the powers relating to the evaluation and assessment of plans and strategies by the regulator, and the review of the performance of planning authorities, including An Bord Pleanála, by the office of the planning regulator.
As Part 2 of the Bill relating to the establishment of the office of the planning regulator is quite extensive, I will summarise what it proposes. The new chapter I of the OPR provisions, namely, preliminary and general matters - comprises just one section, namely, section 31K - to provide for definitions of terms used in this Part. New chapter II, relating to the establishment, organisation and staffing of the OPR includes new sections 31L to 31AL which provide for standard organisational and operational-type issues normally associated with statutory bodies, for example, for the chief executive of the office to be known as the planning regulator, who shall be responsible for the performance of the functions and the administration and business of the office.The functions to be performed by the office of the planning regulator are as follows: evaluate and assess development plans and strategies and make statutory observations and recommendations on them; conduct research and arrange education and training programmes on planning matters; review the performance of An Bord Pleanála and planning authorities; make observations as it considers appropriate to the Minister on planning legislation, planning guidelines or ministerial directions; and perform any additional functions as may be assigned to it and specified by order.
Chapter II further outlines standard operational type requirements relating to the office, including the independence of the office of the planning regulator in carrying out its functions. It outlines that the regulator has to have regard to Government policies and objectives as well as other specified matters in the performance of its functions and the review of the organisation systems and procedures used by the office of the planning regulator in performing its functions. It outlines the appointment and terms of office of the planning regulator, with any such appointment to be approved by Government on the Minister's nomination, as well as the appointment of up to three directors to assist the planning regulator in the performance of the office's functions.
It further outlines: the appointment of staff, the remuneration of staff and the establishment of a superannuation scheme for staff; the payment of grants by the Minister to the office of the planning regulator out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas for the purpose of meeting its expenses; the keeping and auditing of the accounts of the office of the planning regulator; the preparation of an annual report, also providing that the planning regulator may be called before the relevant Oireachtas committee; the provision of services, premises, equipment and other resources as necessary for the office to perform its functions; and the adoption of a code of conduct to be followed by the office of the planning regulator and its staff.
Chapter III provides further detailed elaboration on the primary functions of the office of the planning regulator - the evaluation and assessment of development plans and regional strategies - which is provided for in new sections 31AM to 31AR. Section 31AM provides for the office to evaluate and assess development plans and variations to development plans at all statutory stages of the plan-making process to ensure the development plans and regional strategies, as made, address relevant legislative and policy requirements.
Section 31AN provides for consequential provisions whereby the Minister either agrees or disagrees with the notice or recommendations from the office of the planning regulator and the procedures to be followed in such instances. For instance, where the Minister does not agree with the recommendation of the regulator, the Minister in turn will be required to explain the reasons for such disagreement, lay such reasons before the Houses of the Oireachtas and publish them on the Department’s website. All this is in the interest of increased transparency in the local authority development plan process generally. Sections 31 AO to 31AR provide for similar detailed procedures relating to the evaluation and assessment of local area plans and regional spatial and economic strategies.
Chapter IV on the review of planning functions includes new sections 31AS to 31AX. Section 3IAS provides that the office of the planning regulator may, where it considers it necessary to do so, conduct a review of a planning authority or An Bord Pleanála in respect of the systems and procedures used in the performance of their functions and may on foot of such review recommend that the Minister issues section 28 guidelines, a section 29 policy directive, or a directive under subsection 255(2) of the Planning Act to the authority concerned. Alternatively, on foot of such a review it may recommend the appointment of a commissioner under subsection 255(4) to take over the functions of the planning authority concerned.
Supplementary to section 31AS, section 31AT empowers the Minister to request the office of the planning regulator to undertake a review of the organisation and the systems and procedures used by a planning authority or An Bord Pleanála in the performance of their functions where the Minister is of the opinion that the authority concerned may not be carrying out its functions in accordance with the Act, where it is not operating in compliance with guidelines, directives and directions issued; may be applying inappropriate standards of administrative practice or otherwise acting contrary to fair or sound administration of its functions; may be applying systemic discrimination in the performance of its functions; may be operating in a manner whereby there is inappropriate risks of corruption in the conduct of its functions; or may be operating in a manner whereby there are serious diseconomies or inefficiencies in the conduct of its functions.
Sections 31AU to 31AX outline the procedures to be followed by the office of the planning regulator on the examination of complaints made by any person to the office of the planning regulator about a planning matter, including, where considered warranted, the referral of the matter and any related documents to one or more of the Ombudsman, the Standards in Public Office Commission, the Garda Síochána, or such other State authority as may be prescribed.
Part 3 provides for a number of miscellaneous amendments to the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, primarily relating to the development of the national planning framework and addressing other Mahon tribunal planning-related recommendations, including providing for a legislative basis for the development of a national planning framework, NPF, as a successor to the national spatial strategy. It also provides for the following: the NPF shall be adopted for a period of between ten and 20 years and be reviewed every six years; national strategic development requirements shall be identified in the framework; public consultation shall be undertaken with regional assemblies, local authorities, An Bord Pleanála, prescribed bodies and the Northern Ireland Department for Regional Development in the development of the framework; the framework shall be subject to the provisions of relevant EU environmental directives, including public consultation; and the Government shall submit the draft of a new or revised framework for the approval of the Oireachtas before it is published, and shall have regard to any resolution of the Oireachtas in the ultimate finalisation of the national planning framework.
The remaining provisions in Part 3 of the Bill largely emanate from remaining Mahon tribunal planning-related recommendations; specific actions required to be implemented under the Government’s Construction 2020 strategy, a document that Senator Paudie Coffey was involved in formulating; and a number of amendments already made during the earlier deliberations on the Bill in the Dáil to provide for further streamlining and enhancement of the planning legislation in general. These include: provisions for enhanced transparency in the planning process requiring the publication of submissions on local area plans and development plans, as well as the chief executive’s report on such submissions on the website of the relevant planning authority; the forwarding of any proposed grants of planning permission which would contravene materially a development plan or a local area plan to the relevant regional assembly for observations; and the removal of an overlap between development contributions for water infrastructure being paid for through planning permission conditions to local authorities, and to the separate collection of water infrastructure charges by Irish Water, with section 15 clarifying that any reductions in respect of development contributions as provided for in the Urban Regeneration and Housing Act 2015 can only be availed of in the case of houses that have not been rented, leased, occupied or sold. It includes the following: the provision of legislative underpinning to facilitate the introduction of eplanning, with the online submission of planning applications, appeals and associated fees; the provision of legislative underpinning for An Bord Pleanála to set fees for appeals by property owners against the application of the vacant site levy; and the provision by planning authorities of data or information for databases or national planning systems as may be specified by the Minister, for example, for use on www.Myplan.ie, the Department’s public information website on development plans, local area plans etc.
It also provides for the payment of reduced or no fees, instead of the current €20 fee, by elected Members when making submissions on planning applications, and the noting of such representations on the relevant planning file. It would require planning authorities, when considering applications for planning permissions, to have regard to previous developments by a developer which have not been satisfactorily completed and previous convictions against the applicant on planning permissions, while also enabling planning authorities to refuse applications for planning permission taking account of such past failures.
Other provisions contained in the Bill include that planning authorities will be enabled to refuse planning applications where persons have previously operated under a particular company name and left estates unfinished and where they subsequently apply for planning permission for a new development under a different company name. Planning authorities will be required to process developer proposals in respect of compliance conditions relating to planning permissions within a specified timeframe. Developers will be required to undertake mandatory pre-application consultations with the local planning authority in respect of specified larger developments before being allowed to submit a planning application. It provides for further measures to assist in combatting land-hoarding, including giving planning authorities the possibility of applying a lesser period than the existing standard five-year default period when granting planning permissions and for the streamlining and tightening up of the procedures relating to the taking in charge of housing estates by developers.
Part 4 contains section 15, which amends section 33 of the Water Services (No. 2) Act 2013 to provide that Irish Water, in preparing a water services strategic plan or capital investment plan, shall have regard to proper planning and sustainable development in line with any development plans made under the Planning Act, in particular with the core strategies of such development plans. This amendment is primarily intended to ensure that water services infrastructure will be provided by Irish Water where it is needed in accordance with the provisions of local development plans and core strategies.
The remainder of the Bill comprises a number of Schedules for the purpose of making a series of miscellaneous and consequential amendments to the Planning Act arising from the provisions in the preceding parts of the Bill.
I will bring forward a number of further amendments on Committee Stage in this House primarily relating to extending the remit of the office of the planning regulator to overseas aspects of transport strategies as opposed by Fianna Fáil in the Dáil deliberations, aligning the timing for the making of development plans with regional, strategic and economic strategies and further miscellaneous revisions to the Planning Act which my Department is still examining. I have outlined in some detail the main purpose and provisions of this comprehensive and wide-ranging Bill. I thank Members on all sides of this House for their involvement here today and in the weeks ahead. It has taken about two years for this Bill to go through the other House so it is important we facilitate it as quickly as possible for all the good planning reasons in this and for sustainable planning reasons. I think all sides of the House will agree that this Bill is aimed at delivering a number of fundamental, important and necessary revisions to the Planning and Development Act 2000 arising from the final report of the Mahon tribunal in 2012. In particular and as I have already indicated, the establishment of the independent office of the planning regulator will introduce a further institutional layer of sophistication and oversight of the planning system. The establishment of this new office to take over the function of evaluating and assessing local development plans and regional strategies, to oversee generally the operation of the planning system, and to conduct reviews of operation when considered necessary is aimed at ensuring that the mistakes of the past are not repeated. The planning system is operated in an open, transparent and impartial manner in the interests of the common good. Accordingly, I commend this important Bill to the House and look forward to a constructive and fruitful engagement with Senators in their further deliberations on the Bill, as has been the case with the previous planning legislation we brought through the House.
The Minister of State was right when he said this Bill has been around since 2016 so it is important we get it right. Fianna Fáil supports the passage of this Bill through Committee Stage but we will be putting forward amendments. The primary purpose of the Bill is to implement a core recommendation of the Mahon tribunal, which was the establishment of the independent office of planning regulator to oversee decision-making and the planning process. This is crucial. However, we have a number of concerns about some of the key provisions in this Bill. First, there are some very large omissions in the Bill, for example, if we look at the key Mahon recommendation for improving transparency in planning. Second, some of the office of the planning regulator's functions and powers prescribed by the Bill may not be effective in overseeing the national planning strategy. This will be crucial. Third, we are concerned that the limitation on the powers of the office of the planning regulator is prescribed in the Bill. Finally, we have serious reservations regarding the draft national planning framework, which this Bill would put on a statutory footing. We must make sure that is right because it is important, but again it concerns wording and how it is done.
The most important thing here is sustainable development, which is crucial to economic growth and quality of life. It is all about quality of life. Everyone in Ireland needs to have a proper quality of life, which will be crucial. The office of the planning regulator must be established in line with the recommendations of the Mahon tribunal. This is so important. This Bill fails to live up fully to the full sweep of recommendations from the Mahon tribunal. Reading through the Bill, it is clear that this is the case. The Bill places the national planning framework on a statutory footing. However, the draft plan put forward by the Government is completely inadequate as it neglects rural Ireland and genuinely sustainable development. The Irish Planning Institute has criticised the legislation on the basis that the office of the planning regulator will not be fully independent of the Minister as the office can only make recommendations on local development plans. It cannot strike down plans or variations to plans on its own authority. That will be a problem. The new office does not have the power to force local authorities to change their rules to comply with national policy on land use, planning or zoning decisions such as the national spatial strategy or the regional planning guidelines. However, we believe the legislation strikes an appropriate balance between having an independent planning watchdog and maintaining democratic control and accountability over planning authorities. The input of the Government and the elected representatives is crucial. We believe a better approach in this Bill would be to give the office of the planning regulator the role of arbitrator between local authorities and bodies like the National Transport Authority, NTA. We agree with the Minister that this function should be expanded and we will ensure that this is included on Committee Stage.
This new office will not have full police powers and the capacity to bring prosecutions. What the Minister of State is saying is that this new body will just make recommendations and produce reports for the Ombudsman, the Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO, or An Garda Síochána but it will not have its own powers to prosecute. If the office of the planning regulator is to be effective, it must have the capacity to undertake its primary mandate to oversee planning authority decisions and investigate complaints in a timely fashion because this is all about timing. Timing is crucial.
The second main provision in this Bill is that in addition to establishing the office of the planning regulator, it places the national planning framework on a statutory footing. I know the Minister of State said this but having this framework on a statutory footing will probably be one of the biggest issues. Its policies on rural housing and growth targets for towns with populations below 10,000 risk bringing about decline and neglect. This is the problem. Rural towns really need to be looked after.
Overall, I want to welcome the establishment of the office of the planning regulator in line with the recommendations of the Mahon tribunal. We need regulation but this Bill may not make it an effective overseer of the national planning strategy. My party and I also have serious concerns around the draft framework published by the Government. The overemphasis on cities is creating the divide between those cities and rural Ireland. There is a lot to sing loudly about in my constituency of Carlow. As the House is aware, I am always singing its praises but we are in a great area. We are an hour and ten minutes from Dublin. We can develop a significant inter-regional role. We are on the motorway network between Dublin and Waterford and are easily accessible and connected. It is all about the links. This is about towns like Carlow feeling they have a role in connecting the dots of the major cities. The relevant regional assemblies must provide this connection. The national plan cannot ignore the vital roles played by large towns in rural counties. A person's home is his or her king and where a person lives is where his or her heart is, and that is what it is all about. From this end, any development plan has to ensure that these towns continue to grow. If we look at Carlow, we can see that it is a vital part of the south-east network but its population is growing faster than this plan would have us believe, which worries me. I believe some of the figures are wrong. As the Minister of State said, this has been ongoing for two years. The figures are not correct and I would like the Minister of State to check that. I have a massive concern about the figures that are being published. If we base our plans on underestimating numbers, we will always be catching up because we will never be right if we are two years behind, as we are.
I welcome the plans for investment in the south east, innovation, enterprise and education, particularly the technological university for Carlow and Waterford. I spoke on this the other day. Every year, the south east loses 13,000 students to the cities. They go to the cities for third level education so it is crucial for the likes of Carlow, Waterford and Kilkenny that we have a technological university. However, I believe Carlow town should to be identified as a regional economic growth driver. Allocation needs to be made in respect of a strategic plan to strengthen the central spine. We are right down by the N80. We do not recognise how close Carlow is to Dublin. I was very disappointed last week when the Taoiseach spoke here last week about rural Ireland. I addressed the issue of rural Ireland, the plans and the national planning framework. Rural Ireland is forgotten. The Taoiseach told me not to talk down rural Ireland and I could not answer back. I told him that we were telling him the truth. I think that sometimes the Taoiseach and Ministers are not listening. There are massive issues. We are so proud of where we come from. Those of us in rural Ireland are proud of our heritage and I am proud of Carlow but we are telling the truth. I am saying to the Minister of State that we need investment and jobs. I can tell him that if Carlow got three official visits from the IDA Ireland last year, it was lucky. We need to be working on roads, infrastructure and transport, promoting small enterprises, bringing them back, and making us the link to the likes of Dublin, Waterford and Limerick. That is what it is all about. I believe we need to address this. We need a framework. That is fine and I am all for that but changes are needed.
I welcome the Minister to the House. Yes, this Bill is a long time coming but it is an important one. I will focus on one aspect of it. I have had a number of meetings with a number of planners and city and county councillors in recent days. I will address some of them with the Minister of State later. I will be bringing forward a number of amendments on Committee Stage. It is important. I am seeking professional assistance with regard to these amendments.I believe they would be productive and add to the Bill. That is their function. When the Taoiseach was in the House the other day, he spoke about added value and scrutiny assisting in the legislative process. I hope we will see some of it in action next week. The Bill is on the Seanad schedule for next week. Therefore, we need to start preparing to take it. Most Members will not receive the schedule until Friday. As leader of the Independent group, I attended a leaders and Whips meeting today and can advise Members that it was agreed to schedule the Bill and time has been provided to debate it. That puts us all on notice. It is important to make that point.
It is worth stating the Bill seeks "to amend and extend the Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2015 and for that purpose to establish an office, to be known as the Office of the Planning Regulator, to evaluate and carry out assessments relating to planning matters and provide observations and recommendations in relation to those matters, to conduct reviews and examinations and to conduct education and training programmes and research in relation to planning matters; to provide for the organisation and staffing of that Office". It goes on to state more, but I want to keep the focus on the initial content that I read.
I thank the Minister of State for introducing the Bill. This morning the Minister took a Commencement matter I had tabled and touched on many of the issues involved. I thought that was important as the Mahon tribunal had made a number of recommendations. The time for looking back and saying what we should have done is over. We have learned from it. Terrible mistakes were made which must be addressed. We need an independent planning regulator. The establishment of the office is to be welcomed. It is the subject of a commitment in the programme for Government and I am glad that the Government is acting on it.
The Office of the Planning Regulator must be fully and truly independent. We will need reassurance in that regard. The regulator must not be subordinate to the Government or the Minister of the day. That issue is more or less being addressed but I will have to seek reassurance on it. That is the reason I will table some amendments to the Bill as the office must be truly independent and properly resourced. It must operate with true independence and have the necessary staff and resources that it needs. In that way, people will have greater confidence in the planning process. That is an important point to make.
I want to touch on the reserved and executive functions. I have received a number of complaints in the past week from city councillors who have told me that they are frustrated by the executives when they request to see planning files. In the case of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, on which I served, I learned from two councillors today - I have yet to validate this information, as I have yet to make contact with the director of planning - that they were told that they would not be facilitated in requesting to see particular major planning files which were to come before their committee. If that is the case, it is wholly wrong and we need to do something about it. I hope I will have the Minister of State's support in that regard. I have not had the information officially clarified, but I hope to have it clarified by the close of business today.
I draw Minister of State's attention to an article in today's edition of The Irish Timesby its political editor, Pat Leahy, on new rules aimed at curbing challenges in proceeding with key building projects. The article suggests - only suggests - that the Government discussed these matters yesterday and that there was a suggestion that it would tighten the judicial review process and the right of people to object. I would be wholly against this. Good open government is healthy. I took time today to follow and track a number of Ministers who would have discussed this matter yesterday to check their records. I will start with myself. The Minister of State is very familiar with the North-South interconnector project and the huge opposition to it from Ministers and Deputies from all parties and none.
That is one example. With respect to Dublin Port, I noted that there were councillors and Ministers who had had issues in the past with development there. I have seen other Ministers, Deputies, Senators and county councillors from all parties oppose critical infrastructural projects I clarify that it was right and proper for them to make representations. There was nothing underhand about it. clearly, they have a mandate and represent their communities and have at right to make representations. I do not want to think they are the same people in another office closing off public engagement and consultation. The Minister of State, for whom I have a great deal of respect, knows better than most about some of the many difficult planning issues he has had to confront, as well as the dilemma in deciding what is good for the country and the economy and what is good to retain one's political seat. I am not signalling him out in that respect, but that is the reality of the political world in which we operate. We have to have a proper balance.
We have to empower city and county councillors. I have noticed in the year and a half I have been a Member of this House that there is a great reluctance in central government to devolve powers to local communities. Local government forms a large part of the remit of the Minister of State's Department and I know that the Minister of State, Deputy John Paul Phelan, has plans for it. Are we truly going to empower local communities to make local decisions? That is an important aspect. I note that the Minister of State spoke about the payment of a reduced fee, instead of the current €20 fee, by elected members. He will recall - his officials certainly will - that in this Seanad I have referred to the role of elected members. There was a directive from the European Union about it. The situation in this country is outrageous. Democratically elected representatives in local authorities, the Dáil and the Seanad, for that matter, have to pay to represent their communities. I have no difficulty with that, but I stipulate that it must be open and transparent. Representations have to be included in public files which everyone must be entitled to see. That is very important. It is an issue I want to have addressed and I will pursue it with the Minister of State next week. I want absolute clarity on the role of elected members in his and every other party. They need to have that right.
I welcome the Bill introduced by the Minister of State. I am very supportive of this aspect of it. It is a very positive move. The Minister of State spoke about education, training and research functions and mentioned that the office would conduct training, etc. for everyone. However, there was no mention of training for city and county councillors which I want to see happen. It is set out in section 31 on pages 9 to 11, inclusive, of the Bill. I would be glad if the Minister clarified the matter. If councillors want to be taken seriously, as they do, and to exercise their reserved functions, not the manager's, we need to empower them to do so. The only way we will be able to do that is by giving them the skill set and training they need to assist them and also the power and knowledge that they can challenge the executive.
In terms of Rebuilding Ireland - I appreciate that I have ten minutes in which to contribute-----
I will conclude on this point. The Minister of State is rolling out Rebuilding Ireland, which is important. We all have to put our shoulder to do the wheel, but we have to empower the 31 county and city councils to do the work, challenge their executives and deliver. The new office is very important and this is very good legislation which has been a long time coming. There are other miscellaneous items at the end of it with which I have a difficulty. I will notify the Minister of State next week about the amendments I will table to the Bill. I thank him and his officials for their work on it.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I also welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, and his officials.
At long last this legislation is before the Oireachtas. As the Minister of State indicated, I was involved in the early stages of its preparation. The Bill is necessary for a number of reasons. We have seen huge failures in planning policy, planning legislation implementation and planning decisions that were unsustainable and caused problems in various local authorities. I will not engage in the blame game as to the reasons those problems occurred. Some blame wrong decisions by councils and councillors who were put there and voted in by the electorate and citizens of the State. There were also problems with officials who made bad decisions or who at times might have turned a blind eye. The Mahon tribunal reported and one of its main recommendations was the establishment of an independent office of planning regulator. It is welcome that at long last we have the legislation. Its introduction is timely.
The Minister of State, with his colleague, the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, is due to announce in the coming weeks the new national planning framework. It has been the subject of much discussion in the context of regional balance and rural provision. I express my support for it. I have, however, raised issues about it, as I was quite entitled to do, at the Oireachtas joint committee which deals with environmental issues and also within the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party at which we have had robust discussions on it and the direction we want to see Ireland move in the next ten, 20 and 30 years.I strongly support the idea that we have regional balance as a counter weight to the strong performance of the economy in Dublin and its hinterlands. I totally reject the assertion that rural Ireland is neglected. I certainly believe that rural Ireland needs continuous support and we support rural areas by providing connectivity and infrastructure in the regions. How do we provide that infrastructure? We do so by implementing the hierarchy of planning and supporting strong regional cities that are driving the economy in terms of job creation. I respect Senator Murnane O'Connor's views on Carlow. I think she mentioned Carlow about 100 times in her contribution, as she always does.
In any proper planning system, there must be a hierarchy of priority. The Government is correct to identify the five cities around Ireland that it will grow and enhance and which will double in population in the next number of years. Towns such as Carlow, Kilkenny and Clonmel in the south east can be the next priority in terms of investment. That is the way to do it. If we spread our resources too thinly and dilute the infrastructure right across the country, we do not work efficiently and generate value for money from the taxpayer's investment. We must have a robust, sustainable planning system in the country and that is the reason the National Planning Framework: Ireland 2040 Our Plan is so important.
As we engage with the National Planning Framework: Ireland 2040 Our Plan, it is timely that we have an independent office of the planning regulator that will oversee the implementation of Government policy in terms of regional and local development. The national planning framework should trickle down to the Regional Assemblies and county and city developments plans and local area plans as well. There are many stakeholders involved in the delivery of sustainable county and local development plans. As we know, the stakeholders are the local authorities and the executive management but, as Senator Boyhan said, it is the councillors, the elected members, who have reserve functions. We need to see consistency and sustainability. We will not have that unless we have full transparency and oversight. The new office of the planning regulator will bring that benefit. We must learn from the past mistakes, and bring oversight and transparency and allow alignment and co-ordination of our various development plans so that they are coherent and sustainable.
The office of the planning regulator will have oversight and have responsibility in terms of the review of the systems and procedures in the planning process. That includes the local authorities which are the planning authorities but also An Bord Pleanála. Many of us, as public representatives, will have had experience of engagement with An Bord Pleanála. It is timely that An Bord Pleanála will be made accountable in terms of its procedures. There is much criticism, much of it justified, of the long delays in An Bord Pleanála coming to decisions for critical infrastructure and otherwise. I do not lay that at the door of An Bord Pleanála, but there are various reasons for it. When there are objections, either frivolous or genuine, as the Minister knows, the problem is that An Bord Pleanála has time and again deferred decisions to the real frustration of the development of critical infrastructure. That must be addressed, and I certainly hope that this Bill will address it in terms of oversight and review of the efficiency of the way An Bord Pleanála works.
Senator Boyhan suggested that the office of the planning regulator should not be accountable to the Minister. I would argue against that, as a democrat. I know that Senator Boyhan is a democrat as well. One could apply that at local authority level, for example. Does one leave planning decisions to the county manager or is the planning function of that council the responsibility of the councillors? I believe in a democracy. The Minister is the elected member of the Government to oversee everything that happens during the term of that Government. It is correct that the office of the planning regulator reports to the Minister. The Minister has invested in him significant powers in terms of the protection of the interests of the citizens, but under the terms of this Bill, the Minister is accountable. If, for any reason, the Minister does not agree with the recommendations of the independent regulator, he or she must justify his or her decision and lay down the reasons before the Houses of the Oireachtas. In a democracy, the buck should stop with the Minister and not with some bureaucrat. I disagree with Senator Boyhan on that point. I know where he is coming from in terms of wanting the office of the planning regulator to have full independence but we are a democratic State and we have a Government. The Government of the day is ultimately accountable to the citizen. If the decision-making of the Minister of the day is incorrect, he or she should be held to account by the Government and the citizens who put him or her there.
The Fianna Fáil Members stated that the office of the planning regulator does not have the powers of enforcement or sanction. They want the office of the planning regulator to be judge, jury and executioner. I do not agree with that view either. In the Bill, the independent regulator has the power to call in the Ombudsman, the Garda and the Standards in Public Office Commission in instances of possible corruption or malpractice. Those agencies have the relevant authority and powers to prosecute where any malpractice or corruption is found.
The Minister has prepared good legislation in that respect. There should always be a healthy tension in regard to the creation of development plans between the elected members and the professional planners in the local authorities. The elected members come from the communities with a mandate from the citizens who reside in the communities and they know best what the communities want. We cannot have unrestrained development without proper co-ordination in the hierarchy of planning.
I welcome the Bill and look forward to the debate on all Stages of it.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. I welcome the chance to speak on the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016, particularly because the Tribunal to Inquire into Certain Planning Matters and Payments dealt with issues of corruption in the planning process. It is disappointing that it is taken so long for Government to implement some of its recommendations.
I strongly agree with Senator Boyhan’s point on public engagement. I ask the Minister to strengthen the provision and not dismiss it and to allow the public to express ownership of their area and have their say. As a councillor, I was a bit shocked when I had to represent people and pay the fee for making representations for local people. We need to bring the Minister around to our viewpoint. This is a modern, progressive and a positive provision which will ensure co-operation between the planners, the public and the proposers of the development. It is not negative. We need to be much more inclusive of the public viewpoint, after all it is their local area.
As argued by my party colleague, Deputy Eoin Ó Broin,in the Dáil, it is disappointing that many aspects of the report’s key recommendations remain unimplemented. It is also important to point out, given the length of time since the Tribunal to Inquire into Certain Planning Matters and Payments was established, that the debate on how best to tackle corruption in public life has moved on and Government action on these issues and the issues raised in the report of that tribunal should not be limited to just its own recommendation. In light of this, I am concerned by the absence of several key recommendations from the Tribunal to Inquire into Certain Planning Matters and Payments in this legislation.
While the issue of directly electing members of regional authorities has been deferred, does the Government have any proposals for improving the accountability or transparency of this body in planning related matters? That was a key concern of Tribunal to Inquire into Certain Planning Matters and Payments, the Mahon tribunal. Why has the Government ruled out using an independent appointments process for appointments to what was the National Transport Authority, NTA, and Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII? Contrary to claims made previously, the recommendations of the Mahon tribunal on increasing transparency in the planning process has not been fully implemented in this Bill. The Bill does not address key proposals. I would like the Minister to say why this is the case and whether we can address these matters. Measures relating to decisions by councillors in contravention of the advice of officials and declarations of political donations by planning applicants remain unaddressed. These are key recommendations of the Tribunal to Inquire into Certain Planning Matters and Payments and this is what shocked the public.When I sat again as a councillor in south Dublin, several Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael councillors were named by the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments as being corrupt. Surely this needs to be addressed urgently? Politicians are negatively viewed by the public and ably assist in this negative view. I urge the Minister of State to reconsider these important issues and to either table his own amendments on Committee Stage or to be open to those from Opposition parties. This is not a criticism of the Minister of State. I am sure he is very good. It is a point about how some of these issues were reported previously. It is not good enough to produce progress reports as was previously the case, stating that recommendations are supported in principle or being progressed to some degree.
The second area is the power to act. The real substance of the Bill is the creation of a planning regulator. While the training and research functions are undoubtedly welcome, it cannot in any way be described as an independent body with the powers of regulation and enforcement as recommended by the Mahon tribunal. It is arguable that, rather than enforcement powers being transferred from the Minister to the independent regulator, we actually end up with the contrary of what the Mahon tribunal recommended, namely, increased powers being given to the Minister. That is against both the letter and the spirit of the tribunal's recommendations.
I need the Minister of State to clarify an aspect of the miscellaneous provisions in the Bill, most notably relating to the national planning framework, NPF. An Oireachtas vote must be called for in the final draft of the national planning framework. Sinn Féin has engaged with the NPF consultation process from the start and made two detailed submissions articulating our concerns about the draft plan. There were huge gaps in the last document, namely, in the north west of the country, and there was much vagueness on the North-South dimension of the plan. There must be a much stronger all-Ireland focus, especially in the context of the impact of Brexit.
It is unclear what the procedure is for putting the NPF on a statutory footing. This has not been done before. We must have an Oireachtas debate and vote on this important document before it is given legislative footing. Due to the lack of engagement on these important issues which I have raised, Sinn Féin cannot support this legislation today.
I welcome the Minister of State and his officials. Our discussion of this Bill is overshadowed by the announcement today that the Government intends to bring forward further amendments to the Planning and Development Act. The stated purpose of these amendments will be to limit access to justice in planning cases. This would be contrary to both the Constitution and the Aarhus Convention, to which Ireland is a signatory. The fact that this negative proposal has apparently been approved by the Cabinet is shameful. I hope that it goes no further and is never brought before the Oireachtas.
To deal with this Bill, I welcome the establishment of the planning regulator. The current system for establishing coherence between development plans at various levels has been found to be inadequate. An independent planning regulator is an important reform to address this. The proposed role of the regulator in reviewing the performance of planning functions is especially welcome. It is particularly needed in the area of enforcement as many citizens and environmental advocates report great difficulties in getting planning authorities to perform their enforcement functions effectively.
The results of inadequate planning enforcement affect both the public as a whole and the purchasers of houses and apartments built to low standards. I hope the independent regulator will particularly focus on ensuring local authorities are effective enforcement authorities. We should also make use of this Bill to make further important amendments to planning legislation and I will be proposing amendments accordingly.
Part of the reason for the planning regulator is the inadequacy of the current system in achieving consistency between plans at different levels. The phrase "have regard to" has been found to mean very little in planning law. As a result it was replaced with the phrase "be consistent with" and it is this test which public authorities are required to apply and the planning regulator will implement. The same phrase is used in the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act. Planning authorities are required to "have regard to" the national objective of transition to a low-carbon, climate resilient and environmentally sustainable economy. This phrase has little to no effect.
We have made very little progress in planning for the low carbon transition. It is quite the opposite. Development plans and planning decisions continue to lock us in to high energy use and fossil fuel-based solutions. Therefore, we should use this Act to require that planning decisions of all types are consistent with the national transition objective. I ask the Minister of State to bring forward an amendment to this effect. Climate change is a shared priority for all of us and the Government has already acknowledged that Ireland is a climate laggard. The Taoiseach referred to that recently. I look forward to hearing the Minister of State's response to this.
The difficulties with inadequate enforcement I referred to apply to both planning enforcement and building control enforcement. The two systems have failed us gravely in recent years with serious consequences, especially for owners of defective houses. I believe part of the solution is to have them interlink and support each other. Therefore, we should amend the planning code to make explicit that "satisfactory completion" as defined in the Act includes compliance of all houses with the building regulations. Provision for financial guarantees is an important tool in effective enforcement. We should provide that all developments of two or more houses should include financial guarantees.
In 2015 the European Court of Justice clarified that the Water Framework Directive precludes the granting of permissions which may cause a deterioration in the status of a water body. This is, of course, directly effective in Ireland. However, Irish planners do not refer to European Court of Justice judgments as part of their daily work. The Water Framework Directive would be much better applied in practice if the principle set out in the 2015 Weser judgment was clearly stated in the Planning and Development Act.
The provision in section 28 of the Planning and Development Act, introduced by the Minister of State's predecessor, Deputy Alan Kelly, enabling a highly centralised planning policy without consultation or consideration should be deleted. We should also provide that Part 8 applications are required to contain the same information that an ordinary planning application for the same development would have to contain.
Some local authorities have identified what appears to be a drafting error in section 208 of the Planning and Development Act. It appears to require maintenance of those rights of way listed in plans at the time when the section was commenced. At least one council has formed the legal view that the obligation to maintain rights of way does not apply to any rights of way listed subsequent to the commencement of section 208. I understand the Department has details of this but we would be happy to provide them if required. For the sake of clarity, I think an appropriate amendment should be included in the Bill.
I will refer back to Senators Murnane O'Connor and Coffey with regard to the national planning framework and the importance of regional balance, particularly outside the greater Dublin area. My own region, Waterford, has been on the back foot and it is imperative for the growth of the south east for a city such as Waterford to have the support and infrastructure to enable it to be the engine for the south east.
I look forward to more discussions on the Bill. We need to take significant steps to ensure that the planning system delivers on the transition to a low carbon environmentally sustainable economy and society. Our role as legislators is to ensure the legal framework within which planning operates places sustainability at the centre of the planning system. I thank the Minister of State for his presentation and look forward to the development of the Bill.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House again. He is always more than willing to come here. I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill, which I welcome for many reasons as the Minister of State has outlined, particularly due to the provisions for electronic planning, which will make things much easier for people.I also welcome the provisions on taking into consideration, when assessing a plan, whether the applicant has been responsible for bad planning in the past such as housing estates that were left unfinished.
I want to raise an issue that is not addressed in the Bill and represents a missed opportunity. I hope the Minister will be prepared to accept an amendment on it on Committee Stage. This concerns planning itself. The regulator will have many powers but will not have power relating to the regulation of planners. The Irish Planning Institute is very concerned about the matter. At the moment anyone can call himself or herself a planner. I can act as a planner. As I said, anyone can. There is no protection for the public. The institute wants the situation that pertains to other professions to apply, that is, that there would be a register and a council to oversee proper training, qualifications and standards. It would also have the power to sanction, advise and admonish and to remove a practitioner's licence. It would, therefore, need to be the licensing authority as well. It would be independent of Government, as is the Medical Council, An Bord Altranais, CORU, etc.
This is critically important and very much in the public interest. At the moment people are vulnerable to those who call themselves planners but do not have appropriate qualifications and who are not in breach of any law or regulation. I, therefore, want us to take the opportunity to put in place a proper register of planners so that we can all feel protected when getting the service we require and knowing it is a quality service.
Last night I was at a meeting in Donabate attended by more than 100 local people who are concerned with planning issues in the area. They welcomed that new houses will be built but they want sustainable development. They want to be assured around issues such as flood plains, transport, roads, rail, schools, etc. They are also concerned about enforcement, which other Senators mentioned. Currently, we have a 750 cm pathway outside one of our local schools with heavy trucks and lorries going by it during school opening and closing hours. This was prohibited under the planning permission given to the Central Mental Hospital. I am not sure if these trucks relate to this development or to other developments but this is a public health and safety issue. There is a danger of a serious injury or fatality occurring and it is a major concern for people. Enforcement is a big issue and it can be addressed during the passage of the Bill. I am sure the Minister of State will take it on board.
I have limited time but I will mention quickly the national planning framework. I have already raised in the House my concerns about unforeseen consequences for places such as Fingal and Swords that will be limited in their development and the ratio of brownfield sites to greenfield sites. We have very few in Fingal which means that very few houses may be built on greenfield sites. That is one interpretation we could take. The other unintended consequence would be prices in Dublin city driving up the price of brownfield sites and making houses even more unaffordable in Dublin. We do not want to see that.
We need to speak up for Dublin as well. Without being parochial about it, we need development throughout the country. If we consider Dublin Airport and the €8.3 billion that it contributes to our economy, and remember that for every job, nine other jobs are created, it has the planning permission for four buildings. Some 4,000 office workers will move in there. Where will they want to live? They will not all want to live in Dublin. They will want to live in Fingal and in the area near to their work. This makes sense socially and community-wise and from a green economy perspective given that there will be a shorter distance to travel to work. We do not want unforeseen circumstances strangling Dublin Airport and what is an important part of our economy and an economic contributor not just to Fingal but to the entire country.
There could not be a more important time for us to incorporate this amendment on a register for planners. We are speaking about a capital plan of in excess of €110 billion; we are considering a national planning framework; and Rebuilding Ireland is telling us that we need to build 500 new homes over the coming years. This is a time when IBEC and the ESRI state that as many as 800,000 new homes are required given an expected population increase of 1 million to 1.6 million, depending on the source.
With plans for ever-increasing density within Dublin city, proper planning of amenities and, in particular, green spaces will be essential. We will need these well qualified and experienced planners to be available to us to achieve the best outcome. These are people who will be innovative and will think outside the box. They will get the best for our communities from our new buildings and developments. I hope that the Minister of State will work with me and I look forward to working with his officials on the amendment so that we do not miss this golden opportunity. It is a public interest issue. The public needs protection from unscrupulous individuals who portray themselves as planners when they are not. We need to protect people from substandard planning practice.
I will finish by stating that we need a registrar with the power of sanction, including loss of licence. This will also ensure standards in training and practice and a code of ethics. Those in the Irish Planning Institute want it and so do other planners. It is in everyone's interest that the reputation of planners, many of whom are excellent people, is protected and the public is protected as well.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and it is good to see him here. I mean no disrespect to him but I would have hoped the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, would have attended due to the importance of this legislation.
The provisions in the Bill follow on from the recommendations in the Mahon report as well as those in the McCracken and Flood reports. This was a particularly grubby and corrupt time for planning throughout the country. Former councillors, such as Bernie Malone and Deputy Joan Burton, stood up in council chambers and said that there was corruption and bad planning. Trevor Sargent, when he opened the envelope and saw a bundle of money, highlighted this in the council chamber and asked who else received envelopes, was virtually assaulted. I, therefore, will support the Bill. It is an important Bill in putting that grubby and corrupt period of politics behind us. This refers not just to councillors but to officials and developers. It is a terrible pity more of them did not serve time behind bars.
People are still suffering the consequences of those decisions. They are living in houses that are built on flood plains and do not know when they will be flooded. People purchased houses which they thought would be located near services, such as shopping centres and schools, that were never provided. We saw rezoning at will in the interests of the few and not the many. I, for one, am glad to see that period over. I see elements in this legislation that will prevent it from happening again. It destroyed the reputation of good politicians in this country who fought hard against wrong and corrupt decisions.
Those really bad decisions, which resulted in prosecutions in the courts, affected towns. As a Minister of State, I had the privilege to travel the country from one end to the other and I saw small towns which were destroyed by poor planning decisions. Land was zoned for shopping centres outside town centres and now we see empty shops. Despite being told that it would destroy the town centre, councillors put shopping centres outside town centres for their own personal and greedy reasons. We also saw it at a national level. As with "The Late Late Show", there was something for everyone in the audience in our national spatial strategy and decentralisation. Senator Victor Boyhan is absolutely correct that decentralisation is not about moving jobs from one place to another; it is about moving the decision-making powers closer to the citizen and away from centralised government. We need to put more decisions back in the hands of good local public representatives.
I hope we have seen an end to the days when the Progressive Democrats drove Fine Gael into taking crazy decisions and when signs welcoming people to "Parlon country" were erected.That is some planning we must remember. I hope this legislation will start putting an end to that. We cannot go back to the bad old days of bad decisions made, unfortunately, by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Some of those politicians should still be behind bars. In many ways my party was seen as the good policeman that had to watch the big lads and ensure they were not being too corrupt. I certainly hope those days are over.
In the coming weeks and months, there are big decisions to be made on the future of Ireland, particularly where we will invest the money that the citizens went through great pain during the recession to raise so we could get back on our financial feet, so to speak. It cannot be about somebody wanting money spent in Ringsend, Carlow or somewhere else.
This is a time for politicians to show leadership. We should represent people, as Senator Boyhan mentioned, but there is also a responsibility to show leadership. We must say to people that there is not something for everybody in the audience. We must make key decisions about where to spend the billions of euro that will be available so all our citizens can benefit. Unfortunately, all our citizens will not be able to benefit immediately and it will be a matter of time. It will only happen if priorities are made and decisions are made clearly and transparently. I worry when we hear about national plans being torn up at the Cabinet table, with something put together to give something to everybody in the audience.
I know the Minister of State well and he has served the country and his county well. Please do not go back to the days of old, where we tried to ensure there was something for everybody in the audience. In the end, everybody in the audience will pay for it dearly. We have done it over a number of decades and generations. Please let us not go back to the bad old days. The Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill was worked on by numerous Ministers, including the Minister of State before us and Deputies Willie Penrose, Jan O'Sullivan, Alan Kelly and Eoghan Murphy, as well as Senator Coffey when he was Minister of State. This will have a long-term and lasting effect on the country. I do not like everything in it and it can be improved. It has passed through the Dáil and it must go through the Seanad at a reasonably quick pace to ensure it can have an influence on what is happening today.
The idea that public representatives have to pay to represent the electorate through planning decisions is wrong. An Taisce does not have to make a €20 payment for an observation about a planning application. Our councillors, elected by the people, should not have to pay €20 to make an observation. I would like to see this element of the 2000 Bill changed to allow councillors to make an observation without paying. There is an argument that Senators and Deputies should not have to pay it either. I ask the Minister of State at least to look at making that amendment.
Let us make the decisions for the future of all our citizens and all our children. Let us not go back to the times of Parlon country and the corrupt era. I do not say this easily with regard to what went on in Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. We must make the right decisions for citizens. Sometimes those will be tough and we will pay the ultimate price by losing a seat. We got into politics to make a lasting impact on this country so let us make the right decisions. We should not worry about how the electorate would feel and make the right decisions by our country. We should stand by transparent planning.
I welcome the Minister to the House and acknowledge the importance of this Bill. The Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016 is very important and it deals with matters left over from the Mahon tribunal that must be addressed. Most of the issues have already been mentioned by Senators this afternoon but I have some comments.
The first regards the timelines of county development and national plans and how these are tied together. The Minister of State mentioned that there should be some synergy between the plans so they can work together and it should relate to elections as well. There was a bizarre case in Cork in 2014 when a council changed halfway through a county development plan. Between two public consultation phases there were 38 new councillors coming in and making very important decisions. With the deepest respect to everybody involved, their job was impossible as a result. They missed much of the public consultation phase over 18 months and halfway through the process they were stuck with a very complicated and intense proposal. Most people have experience of the process and I have gone through it on three different occasions.
We need to step back from this and tie elections of councillors to the process so they can be properly trained and informed. When they have to make key decisions, they will then have the ability to know what they can and cannot do. They will also understand the process. In previous cases, they were not aware of the process. If there are 55 councillors and 38 come in halfway through a process, it becomes very unwieldy. There is a body of work we must examine to tie in the sequence of local elections, which happen in a five-year cycle, to these plans. That will bring about a more coherent plan that can deliver better for the people.
There are some very important aspects of this Bill that must be welcomed. For example, there is the matter of developers involved with unfinished housing estates. This is a very important part of the legislation as, unfortunately, we have seen rogue builders over the past decade, if not more, and they can emerge again. These developers are coming back on stream so we must have the ability to weed them out and ensure that when it comes to developing our villages and towns, we do not see the mistakes we saw before. We must look at their reputations. If the builders do not have the appropriate reputations, local authorities must be strong. Local authorities have compulsory purchase order powers in legislation, which are probably the strongest in the State, but they do not want to use them. The executives do not want to use the stick that is required in some cases. It is important that the Minister of State's Department leads by example to ensure that rogue builders can be taken to task. We have seen from time to time local authorities taking the easy option instead of the hard path. We must work on that. If we can ensure developers are aware that local authorities will be strong, we will have sustainable development.
Another matter mentioned by many Senators is the fees attached to local authorities. There is the proposal to reduce the fee for public representatives, mainly councillors, and it is important that local representatives be given the opportunity to make a submission free of charge like organisations such as An Taisce. I do not wish to put the Minister of State on the spot but when was the last time the fee for planning permission was changed? It must be a decade, if not more.
That is nearly two decades. How is inflation factored into that? There have been dramatic increases in local authority staffing, costs and everything else.The cheapest part of a planning application is probably the €62 a person pays to the local authority to go out and look at the site. What happens for that? A local engineer, a senior executive engineer, a local planner and probably a senior planner goes to look at it. If it is a big issue, a manager may be involved. That is for €62. There is an issue we need to look at. The local authorities need to set their fee appropriately. That is a responsibility the local authorities should be given. If they do not want to do it, do not let them. However, the local authorities should have the opportunity to amend that fee.
In the few minutes left, I will try to deal with most of the issues raised. If not, we will deal with them next week through the amendments that I believe are coming in, according to Senator Boyhan. It is to be hoped we will. In respect of the fees, it is a point well raised that it is nearly 20 years since the fees were addressed. There are proposals being worked on in the Department at the moment. It is something we are looking at and we will make a decision on that soon. I will bring it forward to both Houses for discussion as well. There is merit in it.
In respect of fees for councillors and public representatives, as raised by Senators Boyhan, Humphreys and Lombard and many others here, it is an issue we are dealing with in this Bill. We did discuss this before when it was raised in the Seanad during a previous planning Bill. I warn this could put councillors under pressure to make objections on behalf of people.
Yes, I know. However, just to be clear, councillors come under pressure as well when people come to them to bring forward their individual concerns as opposed to the community concerns. We recognise that councillors need to represent the community and to try to keep those fees to a minimum. However, I ask Members to remember that councillors will come under pressure to make observations or comments on behalf of individuals. I ask Senators to bear that in mind.
I have full confidence councillors can withstand that. However, it is something to bear in mind and it is something we are conscious of too. We have all been there. Most of us have been councillors at some stage. We know what comes to the desk as well. That is something we are looking at.
On the timelines, there was a lot of merit in what Senator Lombard said in respect of the cycle of elections as they relate to development plans, because we do have a set time for local elections. We can bear that in mind. The issue in the plan would be in relation to the national planning framework. The follow on then will be completed in the weeks ahead and it is hoped the regional strategy will be completed by 2018, and reflected in the county development plans from 2019 onwards. That is the link from the national into the regional and local.
I remind everybody again the regional plans are key. The national planning framework sets out the national vision and the business case for investment throughout the country, as Senator Humphreys has said. However, the regional plans go down into more detail and then there are the county plans. I emphasise to Senator Murnane O'Connor as well that it is national plan and not a Carlow plan. I want to be very clear on that.
The Minister, Deputy Murphy, who is bringing this plan through, is very clear on this. It is a plan for the country. We will make decisions that are right for the country, as Senator Humphreys has said as well. It will reflect the ambitions of each individual county but decisions have to be on behalf of the country and the regions. That is prioritising and that is what we will do. I know the Senator wants to push for Carlow. Everyone wants to push their own county. It is important though that everyone realises that we have to make national and regional decisions. To allay fears, do not always believe what is written about Cabinet meetings. The Cabinet has a very clear understanding.
This is a national planning framework. It is something we have worked on through various Ministers. The Minister, Deputy Murphy, has worked hard on it for almost the past year. There have been serious rounds of consultation with the wider public. There has been strong representation from all Departments and agencies on the board bringing forward that plan. I have been at those meetings myself and around the country with this over the past 16 to 18 months. There has been a lot of consultation. We have had debates here, in local authority chambers and regional debates. All that debate will be reflected in the final plan.
I hear a lot of commentary from people in here and outside about what is in it and what is not. People are commenting on a draft plan. That has evolved a lot over the past five or six months, and rightly so. That is why we had the consultation, why I went to the regional assemblies and why the Minister, Deputy Murphy, has been engaging directly with people. We are doing that through our officials in the Department for a reason. That is to get everyone's input so we can all buy into the plan and agree with it. The hysteria I have had to listen to in recent weeks is not reflected in the most up-to-date plan. It is a plan that will save rural Ireland.
I am disappointed to hear politicians in recent weeks saying that this plan is going to ruin rural Ireland. It will save rural Ireland, as well as put our cities on a footing to be able to compete on an international level, where they should be able to compete. I refer not just to Dublin but to Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford as well. If we are going to have real job creation for a real future for this country, we have to be able to compete on an international stage and not just from county to county. I want to be very clear on that as well.
There is concern that I am bringing this Bill through and not the senior Minister. I know it not meant personally. We take this Bill very seriously and so does the Minister, Deputy Murphy. I started the Bill in the House before and I was asked to continue with it. It is something I am glad to do because, like the Senators, I have been a member of a local authority and I have seen bad planning. Apart from the people we represent and apart from driving around this country daily and seeing bad planning, I witnessed bad planning as a councillor as well. I had to fight against it. When I came in as a young councillor I had to make some important planning decisions. I did not always go with the grain, I went against the grain. That was difficult. We want to make it possible for councillors of all parties in future to stand up, be strong and make the right planning decisions. The office of the planning regulator will help them do that job and will oversee that. The independence of that is so important.
We have also built in accountability. It is important there is still democratic accountability. That is why the office of the planning regulator will be able to bring forward suggested directions to the Minister who then has to make the final decision. At the moment, the Minister, which is me currently, makes those decisions without any regulator or transparency. We have about 300 local area plans coming to my Department on which our officials work daily and then they come to our desk for decision. That will change once we have the office of the planning regulator. It will bring those suggestions to the desk of future Ministers. The future Minister, whoever it is going to be, will make those decisions in a full transparent way in front of the Houses of the Oireachtas. That is important and it is not there at the moment. I assure the Members I try to make the right decisions on behalf of everybody. Some are discussed in this House. However, the regulator will take the lead on this and bring forward those suggested directions to local authorities on all plans not following national guidelines or proper planning. I believe this is the right system we are putting into place. My time spent as a councillor has given me the real desire to get this Bill through because I have seen bad planning. We have all seen it and it is wrong. We have to correct that. I think we will get most of that right in the future.
The national planning framework is also part of that discussion. I refer to getting proper planning dealing with all the issues the Senators have raised into the national plan. I think we can achieve that. I hope both Houses of the Oireachtas will accept and buy into the plan. I hope they understand that it is a genuine attempt to plan this country for the next 15 and 20 years up to 2040. It is right that as politicians we make long-term decisions. That is why it will be backed by a capital plan of €110 billion to €115 billion of taxpayers' money, money that we have to spend. It is right that they are co-ordinated because in the past we have had national plans that nobody followed and were thrown to one side. There was no backup and no political backup. That was wrong and that is what we are trying to correct with this Ireland 2040 national planning framework. I believe we can do that as well as we go along.
Amendments have been suggested. We are happy to look at all amendments over the next couple of weeks and tease them through with the Senators. We had that chance in the Dáil. It is legislation for all the years ahead and not just this national planning framework. Most importantly, it does reflect the Mahon tribunal recommendations, that is, the planning recommendations. It does not deal with all of the recommendations of the tribunal because it should not. This is a planning Bill. Some of those recommendations are already dealt with in other legislation. Some are for the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. They are not for a planning Bill. However, I understand the point made and I will certainly pass it on. We cannot deal with them all in this Bill. We are dealing with the recommendations that are relevant to planning. That is what we are trying to do here and to correct that as best we can.
Most of the issues were general. It is about giving confidence in the planning system. Senator Boyhan is absolutely right on that. The work we do in bringing forward a planning amendment like this, reflecting the Mahon tribunal's recommendations, is to give confidence in the system. It is to give people a guarantee they can trust the planning system. They have been let down by that system in the past through a combination of faults. There is no use in us trying to debate who, what, where and why. It is about correcting it and putting in place a new culture and system to protect that. I believe there have been great improvements when it comes to planning decisions over recent years. However, this is to reinforce that.
In respect of commentary about suggested changes coming through Cabinet restricting people's ability to object, that is not the intention. It is to bring some clarity to the timelines. EU law and our own laws reflect people's right to object. There is no issue with that whatsoever. However, it is how long that process can take. Anyone wanting to make investment plans needs certainty around the timelines of planning, whether it is community groups or a company.We are currently not getting that with planning decisions. That uncertainty leads to a lack of investment in some cases, which can have a knock-on effect in a community in terms of job creation. With this Bill we are trying to bring more clarity and certainty to the timelines involved. That is what it is about. It is not to restrict anyone's ability to object or to raise a concern, as that is important. There must be the ability to do that in any proper planning system. We respect and acknowledge that.
Senator Reilly suggested a proposed amendment in which there is a great deal of merit. We had a similar discussion on the recognition of accountants when I dealt with the Companies Bill. We have also had a discussion on the recognition of architects. Having such a register can cause difficulty for people in the business. However, having a register of planners is worth examining and we will do so. I will not give the Senator an answer to his suggestion today but we will debate the matter when we deal with that amendment next week. Any amendments to the Bill will be welcomed and we will tease them out. In general, I understand the necessity to have a register of the various qualifications that people have. This is also an issue in the medical profession. It brings complications and it is never straightforward. I have had to deal with the situation with respect to architects, which has left people with good qualifications shut out of the system. Any such amendment would have to be examined and teased out properly but we will certainly do that.
The national planning framework is about prioritising investment and making sure the work we do is having an impact. That is what we are trying to do here. Decisions will be made, with which not everybody will be happy, but that will prove the planning system is right in that regard.
Senator Grace O'Sullivan raised the issue of the maintenance of rights of way. I would be very interested to examine that. We had a discussion on that issue in the Dáil. The Senator's legal advice was not raised there because I think Deputy Eamon Ryan missed getting to do that. He might have raised it if he had the chance to do so at the time. I know there was some consideration of that and we would willing to tease out that issue with the Senator to make sure we get that right. We can only protect them if they are mentioned in the plan. Other amendments were proposed when we debated the Bill in the Dáil but they did not deal with rights of way. Rights of way are not referenced in a development plan. Such provision is easier said than done. They have to be in that plan. I would interested to see the Senator's advice on that issue.
On building control and regulations, we have very strong building control regulations in place. The changes made by previous Ministers in the previous Government are right. We have a very strong building control system that gives people greater protection. We want to keep it as strong as it is. Part of my job is dealing with defective properties. I am looking at situations in Mayo in regard to pyrite and mica. We cannot have defective properties continuing to be built and builders turning their back on regulations. However, I do not believe they are doing that. The certification process that is in place catches and deals with that. We have a higher quality coming through the system. That issue is not included in this Bill but we are dealing with it and the Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2014 is a very strong measure in that space. We are always looking to see how we can improve matters.
Rather than responding to other matters Senators raised, on which I can come back to them individually, I recommend that Bill proceeds to Committee Stage.
Victor Boyhan, Colm Burke, Paddy Burke, Ray Butler, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Lorraine Clifford Lee, Paudie Coffey, Martin Conway, Gerard Craughwell, Mark Daly, Paul Daly, Frank Feighan, Joan Freeman, Maura Hopkins, Gerry Horkan, Kevin Humphreys, Colette Kelleher, Billy Lawless, Terry Leyden, Tim Lombard, Gabrielle McFadden, Michelle Mulherin, Rónán Mullen, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, John O'Mahony, Joe O'Reilly, Grace O'Sullivan, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, James Reilly, Neale Richmond.