Tuesday, 12 June 2018
Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016: Report Stage
Amendment No. 1 is a simple technical amendment to incorporate a reference in the Long Title of the Bill to marine spatial planning, which is the subject also of amendments Nos. 55 to 65, inclusive. The amendment to the Long Title also incorporates a new reference to the Derelict Sites Act, which is also the subject of a subsequent Government amendment.
Amendments Nos. 55 to 65, inclusive, provide for the insertion of a new Part of the Bill and, ultimately, a new stand-alone provision in the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, to provide a primary legislative basis for marine spatial planning. While SI 352 of 2016, the European Union (Framework for Maritime Spatial Planning) Regulations 2016, already provides for the formal transposition of Directive 2014/89 EU, the EU's marine spatial planning directive, there is a clear need to provide for a primary legislative underpinning for the marine spatial plan which mirrors the new provisions for the national planning framework currently set out in section 8 of the Bill, as drafted.
These amendments have two broad objectives. The first is to repeal SI 352 of 2016 and replace it with new primary legislation giving effect to the requirements of the marine spatial planning directive. The second objective is to introduce new arrangements on governance, public participation, review and Oireachtas involvement in the plan-making process to ensure that the processes for adopting Ireland's two long-term forward spatial plans, marine and terrestrial, respectively, are consistent and fully aligned.
The development of a marine spatial plan is a requirement under the EU marine spatial planning directive, which establishes a framework for marine spatial planning. Marine spatial planning is defined as a process by which the relevant member state authorities analyse and organise human activities in marine areas to achieve ecological, economic and social objectives. The directive details the main goals and minimum requirements for member states as follows: balanced and sustainable territorial development of marine waters and coastal zones; optimised development of maritime activities and the business climate; better adaptation to risks; and resource-efficient and integrated coastal and maritime development. The creation of an overarching national marine spatial plan is also anticipated in Ireland's integrated marine plan, Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth, which was published in 2012. The plan identified a marine spatial plan as a Government policy objective.
Under SI 352 of 2016, which initially transposed the marine spatial planning directive, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, which office is now that of Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, was designated as the competent authority for the purposes of co-ordinating the implementation of the directive and, by extension, preparing Ireland's first maritime spatial plan. This work builds on our Department's existing role in terrestrial spatial planning. On 12 September 2012, the Government published Towards a Marine Spatial Plan for Ireland - A Roadmap for the Delivery of the National Marine Spatial Plan, which I understand will be discussed later in the House. It is a pity perhaps that we did not take these debates in reverse order, but in any event it is booked in for later on.
The 2012 roadmap sets out the pathway to create a clear framework for marine spatial planning in parallel with the national planning framework, Project Ireland 2040, otherwise known as the NPF. This process has the potential to deliver a wide range of benefits for Ireland, including: improved certainty and predictability for private investments; improved certainty of obtaining financing for off-shore investments; lower transaction costs for maritime businesses and improved competitiveness for our marine sectors; enhanced environmental management of marine areas; improved use of sea space and the best possible co-existence of uses in coastal zones and marine waters; improved attractiveness of coastal regions; reduced co-ordination costs for coastal authorities; greater development of innovation and research; and enhanced and integrated data and information.My Department has already commenced the preparation of the marine spatial plan, MSP, which will be a strategic special framework encompassing all plans and sectoral policies for the marine area while providing a coherent framework in which those sectoral policies and objectives can be realised. The MSP is intended to become a decision-making tool for regulatory authorities and policy-makers into the future in several ways, including decisions and individual consent applications which will have to have regard to the provisions of the plan in the same way that terrestrial plans form part of a decision-making toolkit in the on-land planning process.
It is intended that the MSP will have a key input to the development of relevant sectoral policies, similar to the role of the national planning framework, in terms of terrestrial sectoral policy development. Development of the MSP will provide an opportunity to set out a strategic planning framework for the period to 2040, in line with the timespan of the national planning framework. It will be both a strategic and concise document in its support of a sustainable development of Ireland's marine resource. This process will be informed by effective public participation across departmental agency structures to ensure maximum buy-in and it must take account of, and inform, the Government’s wider efforts to deliver on the objectives set out in harnessing our ocean wealth.
The effect of the amendment is not simply to extend the remit of the terrestrial planning system out to sea. By inserting a new Part into the planning Acts, the Government is giving due recognition to the MSP as the marine equivalent to the national planning framework while also ensuring the process of making the two plans consistent, aligned and clear for all stakeholders.
There is a strong argument in favour of providing legislation for underpinning the two long-term terrestrial and marine plans, the national planning framework and the MSP, respectively, in the same legislative instrument. Accordingly, I hope the House will support these amendments.
Why were we given 24 hours to review 30 amendments which completely alter the shape of the Bill? These changes are represented in amendment No. 1, which involves a Title change, as well as the various changes that will be introduced in the other amendments. If I tried to completely alter a Bill to this extent, I would be laughed out of the Chamber. Senator Grace O’Sullivan might agree with me that marine spatial planning should be in a separate Bill. Why were we given such a short timeframe to consider these amendments and why has the Bill changed to such an extent?
On several occasions in previous debates, I flagged that amendments would be introduced on Report Stage. I am conscious that the Bill has been going through both House for two years. The whole idea of having the two strategies aligned is because we are trying to bring in forward-thinking plans for the next 25 years. It is not the marine plan. It will allow for the legislation. We will have many debates over the next two and half years formalising the MSP. Senators will not be voting on any plan but just on the process.
We had a lengthy discussion around the same process for the national planning framework. Part of the discussion we had in the Seanad was a bit awkward because the legislation came too late and the plan had been adopted. This Bill will put the process for the MSP firmly in legislation. That started last November and will go on for another two years. It is important we have a debate on how we will formulate that plan.
The process itself will be focused on consultation. We touched on this during the previous debate on Senator Grace O'Sullivan’s motion. She made the point that very few people turned up to some of the public consultation events. We want more people at them. There will be different stages of consultation as we go through the process. This is putting consultation on a legislative footing as well as the role and involvement of both Houses in finalising the plan by 2019.
I echo Senator Warfield's concerns about these amendments being brought in at such short notice.I recognise that the Minister of State speaks about the national planning framework for which there was plenty of time and huge public engagement. To my mind the marine spatial planning document should be on the same footing with the same support and resources to enable the people of Ireland and the different communities and agencies that would want to contribute to do so. As we know, we are an island nation, we have a huge maritime territory and we have often put it on the back foot. We have an opportunity to get this right this time. I ask that we take time to ensure that we have the best for the people of Ireland.
It is incredible that we are now asked to approve the entire primary legislation framework for marine spatial planning in Ireland, introduced to us on Report Stage of the Bill. If we think in terms of process, this whole Bill has gone through the Dáil. It is now coming to Report Stage in the Seanad and here we are handed a huge amount of amendments. I echo Senator Warfield's concerns with how the Seanad is being lumped with a load of amendments on Report Stage of this legislation. As the Minister of State said, we are scheduled to discuss the marine spatial strategy planning at 6 p.m. this evening so it is like the cart before the horse. We are talking about planning and I am standing here thinking that we are not even getting it right at this stage.
As the Minister of State knows, the Seanad is committed to a high level of protection of the marine environment and has called for the designation of marine parks covering 50% of our waters. We expect that this protection would be included in the provisions being proposed today. Unfortunately this legislation, as being proposed by the Government now, does not refer to or set in train that protection for our marine environment. I want to be able to propose amendments to the Minister of State's proposed text and if these provisions are brought back to us in a separate Bill, I will propose amendments to give effect to the marine parks and marine protected areas that we so badly need.
I also have a fundamental question as to why the Minister of State is proposing to give himself the power of being the competent authority for marine spatial planning. We have an excessively centralised system of government in this country and the Minister of State is seeking to centralise it further. I believe in the value of a decentralised system with the involvement through local government of a wide variety of perspectives and experiences. We set out most of our terrestrial spatial planning policies at county and regional levels. In the case of marine spatial planning the best approach would be to produce and approve these plans at a regional level. Our regional assemblies have already developed significant expertise in the marine spatial planning area. For example, the Eastern and Midland Regional Assembly has produced a strategic management framework for Dublin Bay, the result of a three-year, EU-funded project under the EU LIFE+ programme. It is about consistency in how we do things and I feel the Minister of State has put us on the spot here and, given the area concerned, we should have had more notice and time.
As regards the notice, people can debate that in terms of the processes of the Houses but the whole idea of putting it in here is to do exactly what Senator Grace O'Sullivan is after saying, namely, it gets the recognition of the importance that plan will have. It is putting into legislation the role of both of these Houses and the role Senators will have in that. That consultation has to be there. The process we went through with the national planning framework was honouring the spirit of potential legislation but it did not have to be done. If we do not put it into legislation, Governments of the day, be it this one or the next one, can move on and do the spatial strategy without any involvement here. We are putting it into law that a process has to be undertaken that gives all the involvement the Senator wants.
To me it is giving recognition of its importance that it has to be respected and the marine strategy will have to be developed up through the various levels of consultation involved with the Houses and the committees. It does not have to do so at the moment and the planning framework did not have to either but we did that because we thought it was best policy. This has copper-fastened that best policy and recognised and put the marine strategy on an equal footing with the national planning framework.
I am sorry if the Senator thinks it is short notice. That is a different argument but it is to guarantee a process from here on in because the marine spatial strategy is only being worked on, it is not ready or finished. I chair a working group, we are meeting again tomorrow and it involves all the different stakeholders of all different levels and there will be no limit to the consultation around that. I told the Senator that personally already because I value her input. This legislation guarantees that in case there is a change in Government tomorrow, the next day or down the line. It is a good place to put it and this is the planning Bill to put it into. It recognises the importance of marine spatial planning. That is my read of it and I hope that we have a chance to then work on the spatial strategy in the years ahead. However, this legislation is not to sign off on the marine spatial strategy, it is copper-fastening its importance and relevance in planning law and that we have to respect that as we develop it over the next couple of years.
I welcome the Minister of State and his officials to the House again. The Minister of State might confirm something for me. I acknowledge that it is the Minister of State's entitlement to bring amendments at this Stage of the Bill. That is a fact and I acknowledge it no matter how disappointed we might be but that is the process we have to operate under. In terms of the marine spatial plan, my understanding is that there is a long way to go, possibly two and a half years. There is a very comprehensive amount of documentation on the Minister of State's website which is where I have got a lot of information about this so I acknowledge that.
The Minister of State might acknowledge that there will have to be a long period of public consultation. I live in a coastal community myself, albeit in south County Dublin in Dún Laoghaire but it is right across the country, 40% of our population are touching some level of the sea. We should have an understanding that the Minister of State will initiate a substantial period of public consultation and engagement.
It is worth pointing out that there needs to be a coherent coastal and marine plan. That is important and in many ways I would have liked to have seen it as part of the national planning framework but things have moved on. That is the sort of reassurance we want from the House that it is a working document. I welcome that the Minister of State will be here later this evening to talk about it anyway and that there will be this comprehensive engagement with the fishing community, with local and regional councils and authorities and all that are involved. Senator Grace O'Sullivan is right and she has huge expertise in terms of spatial and marine planning. I do not think anyone doubts that. That is the reassurance that the House needs, that this is not a done deal or a fait accomplibut that there will be a substantial amount of negotiation and public consultation. That is the assurance we need from the Minister of State.
I can absolutely provide that assurance. That is exactly what it is and this legislation is copper-fastening that assurance. Apart from my word it is in legislation but that is exactly what we want to do and have as many people as we possibly can involved in this public consultation because there are not enough people taking an interest in it.
I recognise the Minister of State's good intentions. I do not think he is trying to pull a fast one on this. Marine spatial planning is a key function that needs to be embedded in legislation. Senator Grace O'Sullivan touched on Dublin Bay. Most of the beaches in Dublin Bay had a no bathing notice during the fine weather for reasons that were pointed out at a very high level at the planning stage of the Spencer Dock sewerage pump station, namely, that if it malfunctioned it would do damage to the bay. That is a large part of the reason there was a no bathing notice in Dublin Bay over the last number of days. That level of engagement in marine spatial planning is necessary.I am a little concerned about the process. The number of amendments the Minister of State proposes to insert in the Bill will provide an enabler facility. The 2016 Bill, which was passed by Dáil Éireann, has been significantly amended and the Minister of State is amending it further by bringing forward more than 30 amendments to it. In the normal course, slight amendments are made to legislation in either of the Houses and it is passed on to the other House. However, if this Bill is passed by Seanad Éireann, it will have been significantly changed from the original Bill that went through the process of Second, Committee and Reports Stages in the Dáil. It has gone through Second and Committee Stages in this House and it is now proposed that we significantly change it on Report Stage. I have a concern that it has not been challenged or that the debate on it will not be sufficiently robust at this late date. The Minister of State might provide guidance on the way he intends to deal with the Bill if it is passed by the Seanad. Will it simply be referred from the Seanad to the Dáil or does he intend to refer it to a committee prior to be it being taken in the Dáil? There have been significant changes to the Bill, some of which were robustly challenged on Committee Stage in this House and some of which we have only had sight in the past few hours. I can understand the Minister of State wanting to bring this 2016 Bill up to date and reflect what is currently happening. There is a need for the parliamentary process to be carried out to make sure we pass legislation in this House that has been challenged and scrutinised in a proper manner. With the volume of changes the Minister of State is proposing to make to the Bill, I have a concern they may not receive the scrutiny such important legislation requires.
I welcome the Minister of State and his officials to the House to deal with this significant planning legislation. I believe we all want to achieve the same objective in having a coherent and transparent planning system that is properly regulated. The legislation, which we debated at length on Committee Stage, provided for much of what we expected with respect to having a planning regulation and the various mechanisms and powers that would be afforded to the regulator to ensure we have a planning system in which we can have confidence. However, only a few weeks ago we had a good debate on a motion submitted by Senator Grace O'Sullivan on the need for progress in the way we protect and plan for our marine environment. The Minister of State listened to what was said during that debate. This is a step forward. He has brought forward substantial amendments to provide for marine spatial planning. That is what we sought and what I heard Senators calling for a few weeks ago. The Government was accused, perhaps rightly so, of not moving quickly enough to protect the marine environment and its ecosystem. I commend the Minister of State on bringing forward these amendments. He is mapping out a legislative framework for proper marine spatial planning, which is what we have been calling for. The details of that spatial planning for our marine environment will be worked out once the framework is in place and there will be ample opportunity to engage at all levels.
Senators have pointed out that we are an island nation. I come from a coastal county. It is important all the stakeholders have a say in the proposed plans for our marine environment but unless such planning has statutory underpinning, such as that proposed by the Minister of State, then it is weak. We should commend him on bringing forward these amendments and debate them if we wish. The Minister of State moved quickly and responded to concerns raised in this House only a few weeks ago to the effect that enough was not being done to protect and plan for the future for our marine environment. Substantial amendments have now been brought forward in the Seanad. We should be confident and welcome the fact that we are the first to debate this legislation and the proposed amendments. If we want to change them, the House can vote on them and we can return the Bill, with our changes made to it, to the Dáil.
I welcome that the Minister of State listened to what Members said during a previous debate on this area in the Seanad. He and his officials have mapped out what they want to do in terms of a framework for marine special plans. Substantial amendments have been proposed, amendments Nos. 55 to 65, inclusive, which give statutory powers and underpinning to future plans for the marine that may develop. Rather than divide on these proposed amendments, we should step back and consider what they propose in a positive sense. They will put in place, for the first time ever, statutory plans in legislation for marine spatial planning. I have heard that called for by Members across this House. There is an opportunity for the Seanad to introduce this legislation and made changes to it, and to take the credit for that. I have heard Senators speak passionately about the way we need to plan for our marine environment. This is our opportunity to put such proposals in this legislation, to be proud of them and to change them if we wish, and then to send the legislation back to the Dáil for its further approval. I commend the Minister of State on listening to what was said the Seanad previously and for bringing forward this legislation. It will strengthen planning from territorial planning right across to the marine environment, which is something for which all Senators have been calling for some time.
We all support marine spatial planning. We all know the importance of regulation and planning but that is not the problem. Many changes have been proposed today that need to be discussed with the different agencies and groups. What Senator Boyhan said is very important. Everybody needs to play a part in this. Everybody wants proper planning and for things to be done right. Many changes have been proposed today and we all need to debate them and to make sure that the agencies involved in this area have a proper say.
I have listened to the debate and I agree fully that marine spatial panning deserves recognition in the Seanad and in the Dáil, and it deserves clarity and a plan. However, I am concerned, to say the least, at the manner in which this amendment is being introduced. It refers, I believe, to section 7 of the national planning framework and policy objectives 38, 39, 40 41a and 41b, which combine with respect to realising Ireland's island and marine potential. However, it is very short. We speak about public consultation and I heard what the previous speakers said about that. To take a step back from this, the national planning framework is not even being debated line by line in the Houses of the Oireachtas. We are not allowed to vote on it or to have our say. I made a submission as an ordinary citizen in the first round of public consultations and I made one, as did many others, to the second round of public consultations, but I got no feedback. No report was compiled on the first or the second round of public consultations. We are considering a 20-year vision for the future of the country and no report was compiled on those submissions, irrespective of whether they merited consideration. In the final weeks leading up to the publication of the national planning framework, it appeared that political interference dictated the direction of the framework rather than the submissions which were made. That was wrong and we have no opportunity to question it.
-----section 7 of it deals with marine spatial planning. There is a complete lack of parliamentary scrutiny of this. I have a later amendment on that and will speak to it when we reach it.
In respect of the marine, this is obviously an amendment to fulfil a European obligation. I have no issue with the amendment but I would like clarification on its objectives. I presume it is to realise the strategic vision set out in the national planning framework.Am I correct, or is there an additional objective of publishing a stand-alone marine spatial plan for the entire country? Will they be unique and separate? At this point I raise a major concern about section 7 related to marine spatial planning and its potential within the national planning framework. Ireland's premier fishing port, Killybegs, is not recognised at all. Smaller ports are given greater recognition. I do not know why that has happened. We cannot now have a say because we are not going to be allowed to debate or vote on the plan. We cannot have a parliamentary buy-in. I have concerns about the entire process, some of which have been raised validly by our colleagues in Sinn Féin. I have listened to Senator Grace O'Sullivan and all of what has been said. This is the future direction of the country over a 20-year period. Politics should be left to one side. Political decisions should be removed and the plan should have an absolute Oireachtas buy-in from all political parties and none. I do not understand the fear about debating its actual merits. We are inserting an amendment of one or two lines into an already confusing Bill. Initially it set out to implement recommendations made in the report of the Mahon tribunal, but now we are encompassing the national planning framework and marine planning. What else are we going to add to the Bill? It appears it started off as a boreen and is now a motorway. It is gaining momentum all the time. Should we not be dealing with these issues separately? Do the national marine spatial strategy and the national planning framework not deserve their own dedicated pathways through the Houses without inserting lines into other Bills?
I am conscious that some Members might have missed the debate earlier. The idea behind the amendments is to recognise the importance of marine spatial planning and that we are putting together a national plan. I am conscious that the Senator might have missed the earlier discussion, but that is exactly what we are doing. We are putting in place a process such that in the coming two years or thereabouts we will formulate a marine spatial plan or a national plan for the marine for the whole country. What the Senator has asked for is exactly what we are doing. What we are trying to include in the legislation is a process to ensure it will involve all of the consultation for which the Senator has called. It is not guaranteed to happen without including it in primary legislation and that is what we are trying to. Others have referenced the process that involves going back to a committee. That was not my plan. My plan was to be here and in the Dáil. Certainly, it is something at which we can look if Senators believe it merits consideration.
To be honest, I think there is confusion about what we are inserting. The marine spatial plan will be debated for two years. We will go through all stages of consultation. The first debate in this House will take place one hour from now. We are starting a process. We published a road map last autumn and the process will continue for a couple of years. I am unsure whether the Senator missed some of the discussion on the national planning framework, but we had many debates in the House on the matter.
That is fine, but there was considerable discussion in this Chamber, as well as in the Dáil and throughout the country, on the national planning framework. I travelled to meeting after meeting throughout the country and it passed through seven or eight committees. There was a great deal of consultation. The Houses of the Oireachtas gave powers to the committee to finalise the report on behalf of both Houses and it was included.
The Senator is absolutely wrong to say that at the end changes were made based on policy. I have been around the country for two and a half years with the plan and know from where the changes came. They came from the people who made submissions and had ideas. They were brought forward by councillors and many others, including those whom the Senator represents in this House. They included many good changes. The Senator's charge comes because the amendments were announced at the end, but I know from where they came because I tracked the debate throughout the process. I was involved in the consultation process. The same consultation process is involved here. We are actually begging people to get involved in it.
I have been in this House on many occasions to do so. There has been no shortage of opportunities to discuss the national planning framework and I have been happy to do so.
The difficulty lies where we disagree. I accept that the House disagrees. Senator Fintan Warfield had a reasonable motion seeking a final vote in the Houses. We disagree on that aspect because I believe strongly as a Minister of State in the Department that eventually someone has to bring the debate to an end. That is the job of Ministers and the Government. However, up to that point we can have extensive consultation on a draft, a final draft and feedback from committees. Ultimately, however, someone will have to make the final decision. If that is not allowed for, we will never have a final decision and will still be debating these things for years to come. I accept that we disagree on having a final say. A good argument was made on that point previously, but I could not agree with it. Eventually someone will have to make the final decision.
Senator Grace O'Sullivan should note that it is not a question of my giving me or the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, the power. It is a question of getting all people involved in formulating the national marine strategy. I do not have the final say in the decision-making process that will happen today on a marine or an offshore planning application. Everyone has been involved and made submissions. The Department will make the final judgment after everyone has been consulted and after advice and all written submissions have been received. A specific body is in place to advise on all marine matters. Every group we can think of that wants to have a role in formulating the marine strategy will be involved.
I have no problem with it whatsoever because we want involvement. It is a national marine strategy.
This legislation gives the process a legal footing, as well as importance. It is exactly as Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill said about recognising the importance of a national planning framework and a marine strategy. We should recognise that they are equal and equally important, which is why they are included. The legislation is not signing off on what is contained in them. It relates to the process involved in formulating them. It was not in force when we started the national planning framework. We tried to honour its spirt, but it was not apparent. The national marine strategy has a chance to be included if Senators accept and allow it. This House is a fine place in which to make amendments to legislation. However, Senators seem to be downgrading its importance, but I see nothing wrong with starting a debate in this House, bringing something forward and finalising it in the other House. What is wrong with that? Every other day we hear complaints that we do not do that. We are bringing forward amendments that we have flagged and said we would start the process here. It is the choice of Senators whether they want to vote in favour of them. One important part of planning is to have a national marine strategy recognised in the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill and the process in its own right. It is included in the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill. The process recognises the equal right accorded to the national planning framework. The Senator is wrong. This legislation, introduced on foot of the report of the Mahon tribunal, is about having a national planning framework and putting in place a process for it. That is also part of the process arising from the report of the Mahon tribunal, which is why it is included in the Bill. It belongs in it. If a planning Bill is being designed for a period of four or five years and goes through the Houses for a further two years, there are likely to be add-ons because every week Senators raise issues that they want to see included. The legislation is responding to the needs of the country. That is what the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill is for. We are adding things as we go along. There will be another one in the autumn, but I would prefer to provide for the national marine strategy process in this legalisation to get on with it. However, that is a matter for Senators. It is a good move to have a proper process set out to involve everyone in the consultation process for the national marine strategy. It is important for the country that we do so.
Most Senators are not questioning the work ethic or integrity of the Minister of State on this matter or the level of commitment he has shown in this and the other House on the Bill. However, I have a concern about the process. As Senator Paudie Coffey said, we are all including the framework in the Bill. To me, it represents the foundations. However, we are only including it on Report Stage. In normal circumstances these amendments would have been discussed on Committee Stage in one of the Houses to have a full debate.
I will be honest. I have not had time to look at the number of amendments the Minister of State has included in the Bill. There is a certain degree of nervousness. I respect the good intentions of the Minister of State and take it exactly as he has outlined. However, I am unsure whether this has gone through due process and been subject to the full rigour of Committee Stage in either House. I would be far more comfortable had it unfolded otherwise. I accept that the Minister of State is trying to do the best he can because the Bill has been going through both Houses for a long time and numerous statements have been made on what we want to include in the Bill, as Senator Paudie Coffey said. I think the Minister of State is suggesting at this stage that we accept the amendments in this House, especially those relating to the framework for marine spatial planning, and that he then go back to the Dáil for a full Committee Stage debate. If that is the case, I am inclined to support him on the amendment because I could then see an opportunity to test the framework to ensure it is the best one. It would not be sprung on the Dáil by way of a report from the Seanad. I would have much preferred to have seen the amendments brought forward on Committee Stage. I would have been far more comfortable with the idea that they would be stress-tested here to ensure they were the best possible. However, I have reservations.That is the only reason I am raising questions about the process. I have been in the same position as the Minister of State in terms of tabling Report Stage amendments in the Seanad, but certainly not to today's level.
I am not sure whether procedures allow us to recommit. If they do, I would have no objection. We could then have a discussion - there is probably a timeline for after this Stage's conclusion - on this and tease through the benefits of our strategy and what we are trying to do. If people wanted to table amendments in that context, it would be up to them. I am unsure as to whether we can formally recommit, but it might help Members to tease out what we are doing.
I am happy to relay Senator Humphreys's concerns, but there are no concerns. This measure sets out the process that mirrors the national planning framework. We all agreed with the consultation, but we did not like the end product in terms of the draft, who votes on the final document, etc. We will never agree on that. This measure is not hidden away. I am not saying that it will be removed, as it is firmly there in black and white.
The remainder sets out the same process that we undertook with the national planning framework. We are trying to follow that. Most people agree it was a good process and those who wanted to participate felt involved, but if only five people attend a meeting that we advertise in the local media, newspapers, Twitter, Facebook and so on, what can we do? I am happy to take a list of people whom the Senator wants to invite to these meetings and to go to their neighbourhoods where possible, but we cannot drag them to meetings. We want them to be involved. That will be ensured.
I have no problem with appearing before the committee to discuss this during the gap, but I cannot agree to a full Committee Stage because we need to get on with the Bill, which has been sitting around for a long time. If that would alleviate the Senator's concerns, I will commit to it.
I seek clarification regarding Senator Humphreys's concerns. We were given nearly 20 amendments to this Bill just a day ago. As with the point of planning, we need time to assimilate the information and become confident about signing off on this amendment.
Given his experience, I will ask Senator Humphreys to advise me on-----
Marine spatial planning is a large area and we in the Chamber want to give it that recognition. I want all Senators to give this matter real consideration, as they have done. I take on board the Leas-Chathaoirleach's comments about the process for recommitting to Committee Stage, where Members could have some influence, but I do not want us to sign off on something that was handed to us the day before and into which we have not had ample opportunity to make an input.
By inserting marine spatial planning into this Bill, the House would be giving it importance and allowing us to implement the strategy afterwards. Senators would be saying that marine spatial planning belongs in a planning and development Bill. As Senators will appreciate, there was considerable difficulty in January, February or whenever it was. We were introducing a planning framework, but the legislation had been delayed for months in 2017. The framework caught up with and overtook the legislation. It would be a shame for that to happen again. I would prefer if the legislation was passed and the marine strategy followed. We have started the process, but it is at an early stage. Ideally, we would pass this legislation and use it to guide the process and copper-fasten a role for the Houses that they would not have if anything happened tomorrow. It is a use of-----
I do not see how. It would not be necessary. Apart from that, I could not tell the Senator when such a Bill would be before the House. A lot of work has been done on this Bill so far. We felt that the best way to give marine spatial planning the recognition it needed was to include it in this Bill. By doing so, it is placed in parallel with the national planning framework, which is covered by the Bill. They will be aligned in a single Bill and recognised as being equal in terms of being important long-term plans for the country. That is why they are together. I see no great benefit in having a separate Bill. Doing so might give marine spatial planning its own standing, but it would not make much difference.
This grouping proposes minor amendments to sections 31AA and 31AC of the Bill to provide that the staff of the office will be civil servants in the Civil Service of the State. Under section 31AI, the Minister may provide services and resources to the office. It envisages that staff may be seconded on a temporary or permanent basis to the office and that premises, equipment and other services may be made available to it. This will ensure that the office can be established and begin performing its functions as quickly as possible.
Having examined the matter further, savings are likely to be made through the use of shared services in areas such as payroll, human resources and IT, which can be assessed if the staff of the office of the planning regulator are employed as civil servants. Providing that the staff of the office shall be civil servants will also enable their speedier recruitment through the Public Appointments Service, PAS, and access to panels from open competitions as well as ease of staff secondment in the initial phases of the set-up, which will facilitate getting the office up and running in a shorter timeframe. This amendment does not affect the independence of the regulator, which is already clearly provided for in section 31R.
To clarify the employment basis of the regulator further, a minor technical amendment is proposed to section 31W to include superannuation in subsection (1) as one of the terms and conditions of appointment that will be subject to the Minister's decision and the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.
I am also proposing a minor technical amendment to section 31AX(2) to more accurately reflect that the power to bring proceedings for an offence under the section is held by the planning regulator as distinct from the office of the planning regulator.
Amendments Nos. 6 to 16, inclusive, 23 to 25, inclusive, 28, 32 and 34 are related. Amendment No. 10 is consequential on amendment No. 8, amendment No. 11 is consequential on amendment No. 13, and amendment No. 16 is consequential on amendment No. 4. Amendments Nos. 6 to 16, inclusive, 23 to 25, inclusive, 28, 32 and 34 may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
These amendments will amend sections 10, 12, 13, 20, 28 and 31 of the principal Act as well as sections 31AL, 31AM, 31AN, 31AP and 31AR of the Bill.The amendments to the above sections of the principal Act, including amendments to the current Planning and Development Bill 2016, as already passed on Committee Stage in the Seanad, are proposed to strengthen the provisions in the principal Act regarding the adoption and variation of statutory plans, local authority development plans and local area plans, as well as regional, spatial and economic strategies. These amendments are directly related to the proposed establishment of the office of the planning regulator, OPR, pursuant to this Bill and to the powers of the Minister to issue directions based on a failure by a planning authority to implement a recommendation made by the office of the planning regulator or a recommendation made by the Minister prior to the establishment of the OPR. In other words, the effectiveness of the OPR will be much stronger as a result of the amendments.
Under the existing provisions of the planning Act, local authorities when adopting or varying their development plans or local area plans, in addition to setting out objectives for a range of matters including the zoning of land for particular purposes, that is, residential, commercial, industrial or agriculture, the provision of infrastructure to serve the area, namely, transport, water, energy and waste, the protection of the environment and the built heritage, are required to take sufficient account of the proper planning and sustainable development of the area to which the plan relates, the statutory obligation on the local authority and any relevant policies or objectives for the time being of the Government or any Minister.
The existing wording requires the taking of sufficient account of the specified matters which could give rise to certain issues where, for example, elected members in the adoption or variation of development plans do not necessarily implement the spirit of such requirements in the final adopted version of the plan, even though they have been recommended to the planning authority in submissions by the Minister on the draft development plan or local area plan, an advisory function, which is to pass to the OPR on its establishment. An example in that regard would be where the elected members designated only a small area of land in the local authority development plan as suitable for renewable energy purposes, including wind energy, thereby undermining the achievement of national renewable energy objectives in that regard.
In light of the foregoing, the wording of the Act in this regard needs to be further elaborated and strengthened to clarify the need as a step in the adoption of variation processes for development plans and local area plans "to implement" as distinct from "taking sufficient account of" the national and regional development objectives set out in the national planning framework, the relevant regional spatial and economic strategy and the provisions of spatial planning policy requirements incorporated in statutory planning guidelines issued by the Minister pursuant to section 28(1)(c) of the Planning Act, all of which will be the subject of recommendations by the OPR to the planning authority once the OPR is established.
These changes, which will require numerous consequential amendments to the existing provisions of the planning Act, including amendments to ensure compliance with strategic environmental and appropriate assessment requirements, will have the effect of requiring elected members of local authorities and regional assemblies to more fully incorporate and respect national policies and objectives in the final adoption or variation of development plans or local area plans for their respective functional areas, thereby ensuring that such development plans and local area plans are consistent with and aligned to relevant national policies or objectives.
Amendment No. 20 is in the name of Senators Grace O'Sullivan and Black. Amendments Nos. 20 and 36 are related and may be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I am advised that, unfortunately, Senator Warfield cannot speak to the amendment as one of the proposing Senators must be present in order to move it. The amendment cannot be moved.
On a point of order. Senator Grace O'Sullivan proposed the amendment in good faith. I think she has just gone for a short break. If you want to call a quorum, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, I think she will have time to come back. In fact, here she comes now.
I move amendment No. 20:
In page 44, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:“Amendment of section 2 of Principal Act
7. Section 2 of the Principal Act is amended in subsection (1) by the insertion of the following:
“ ‘satisfactory completion’ includes compliance of all houses with the Building Regulations.”.”.
Sections 34(4)(f) and (g) of the 2000 Act currently provide that conditions can be imposed requiring satisfactory completion and the giving of security for satisfactory completion. Amendment No. 20 provides that the concept of satisfactory completion includes compliance with existing regulations for houses and apartments.
Amendment No. 36 would require planning authorities to include such conditions when granting permission for developments with more than one dwelling unit. Unfortunately, what often happens to purchasers of houses or apartments which have been built outside the regulations is that they have no comeback to recover the cost of repairing the damage done. Those conditions would help to address the appalling situation faced by owners of houses and apartments which have been badly constructed in multi-unit developments. It requires that the planning permissions for those developments would include security to ensure compliance of the houses or apartments with the building regulations.
I will be brief because we have a lot of work to do in the next few days. On the face of it, the amendment sounds to me like common sense. I would like to hear what the Minister of State has to say but on the basis of what I have heard it makes sense. I will listen to what he has to say before I decide how I will vote.
I second the amendment. I am sure the Minister of State is aware that the Multi-Unit Development Act is very much outdated. Right across the country residents of multi-unit developments such as apartment blocks are running into significant problems regarding the repair of what is basically a faulty build in the first instance. Anything that would assist in ensuring compliance in the building of multi-unit developments would be very welcome.
I commend Senator Grace O’Sullivan on introducing the amendment. I would like the Minister of State to examine the situation again given that not a week goes by without me being contacted by people when an apartment development runs into trouble. I welcome the measure if it introduces better security for multi-unit developments but there is a greater job of work to be done outside of this legislation to tackle multi-unit developments, managing agents, management companies and the ongoing insurance problems for apartment blocks around the country.
Amendment No. 20 seeks to define the satisfactory completion of a development and link compliance with the building regulations into the planning system.Amendment No. 36 seeks to make the application of this definition mandatory in all cases of developments of two or more houses.
I do not propose to accept the amendments tabled by Senator Grace O'Sullivan for the following reasons. It is not the function of the planning code to enforce compliance with a separate and distinct regulatory code such as the building regulations. Local authorities are independent in the use of their statutory powers under the Building Control Acts 1990 to 2014. The planning system and building control system are two distinct and separate codes. While I understand the objective the Senator is trying to achieve, given that these are two separate codes, the amendment is not the way to achieve that objective.
Under the Building Control Acts 1990 to 2014, the primary responsibility for compliance with the requirements of the building regulations rests with the designers, builders and owners of the buildings with regard to the certification process. Enforcement of the building regulations is a matter for the 31 local building control authorities, which have extensive powers of inspection and enforcement in the event of breaches of the building control regulations. Accordingly, I do not regard it as appropriate that the planning system should be used for ensuring compliance with the building control standards in the manner proposed by Senator O'Sullivan.
I also oppose the amendments because I have no evidence that the existing discretionary arrangements for the attachment of conditions to planning permissions are creating systematic difficulties on the ground. I am particularly concerned that at a time when we are trying to encourage house building across the State, the proposal in the amendments would impose additional mandatory planning conditions, including financial requirements, on smaller house builders operating on tight margins. Currently, it is a discretionary matter for each planning authority to decide whether to attach specific types of additions to planning permissions in individual cases, including conditions relating to the satisfactory completion of a development of two houses or more and conditions requiring the provision of adequate security for the satisfactory completion of a proposed development. This is infinitely preferable to imposing blanket requirements to attach conditions relating to the satisfactory completion of development in all cases.
The regulatory systems relating to planning, fire safety, accessibility, building control and conservation are perceived as creating competing agendas and therefore need to be separately addressed in accordance with their respective legislative requirements. Accordingly, I must oppose the amendments.
I understand what the Senator seeks to achieve with regard to unsatisfactory buildings that have been built in the past. We have addressed this issue through changes made to the building control regulations since 2014. The certification process in place is probably second to none in Europe and is very much enforced. Many of the concerns people have relate to buildings completed prior to 2014. This Government and the previous Fine Gael-Labour Party Government have made changes to strengthen the regulatory and building control processes. It is not necessary to align these processes with the planning process. I will not support the amendments.