Seanad debates

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

County Development Plans

10:30 am

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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The next matter concerns the inclusion of buildings and structures in the record of protected structures in the current Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown county development plan.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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The Minister of State is very versatile. I presume she is representing the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage as she will now discuss protected structures. I will keep my comments sweet and short.

My Commencement matter concerns Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, which is one of 31 local authorities in the country, and the designation of structures in terms of the record of protected structures. Each local authority is obliged to keep an inventory or record of protected structures for councils and the designation of the record of protected structures is a reserved function.

There is some concern. Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council is in the process of developing a county development plan. The chief executive has prepared her draft and it was sent to the elected members for consideration. I understand that they have submitted a substantial number of motions that will be debated next week and will discuss, among other things, some proposed record of protected structures. There is conflicting advice around these local authorities and there is some concern by prescribed bodies like An Taisce and other heritage groups. There is concern among politicians and some citizens about when to interface or interplay with the local authority on proposals for additions to the record of protected structures. There is also an issue concerning deletions.

I am aware that the Minister of State's county of Galway is currently considering protected structures. I did not know beforehand that she would be here today but I can now tell her that I spoke to the chief executive of Galway County Council the other day and that the county council is considering the addition of protected structures not as part of its review of the county development plan but as part of its current plan. I believe, and I have always understood, that one can seek a variation of one's county development plan through a public consultation process that is advertised in newspapers suggesting that one would add something. The process includes consultation with the owners and the conservation office. The pros and cons are explained to the owners and they must be given a reasonable amount of time to consider the structural issues. The chief executive then supplies a report based on professional advice to the elected members and, ultimately, the elected members see and consider that advice before making a decision. So it is ultimately a reserved function.

I have outlined one way and I believe that Galway County Council is doing it the correct way. Other councils suggest that it is not and call it a county development process. What does that mean? A county development plan occurs every five or six years so it is rubbish to suggest that one can only add or delete structures every five years.We can only add or delete structures every five years. That is rubbish. A building in Portumna could come to the attention of the Minister of State tomorrow which she might raise with councillors and they might consider. If there is a crisis, it may need protection. On the other hand, it could be necessary to make deletions. There are buildings that may not or should not be recorded as protected structures for various reasons. They have been listed because vexatious individuals want to block development. That is not right either. I want clarity on the process. I ask the Minister of State to bring back to the Minister the concern of elected members and the executive of the council and the need for strong guidelines in regard to each of their roles in regard to this process. I look forward to hearing the Minister of State's reply.

Photo of Anne RabbitteAnne Rabbitte (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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I am taking this matter today on behalf of the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Peter Burke. As in the previous matter, I will read the script provided to me, following which I will offer my own opinion.

I thank Senator Boyhan for raising the matter and providing me with an opportunity to clarify the position. The making or variation of the statutory development plan of a planning authority is set out in sections 9 to 13 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended. The development plan preparation process provides for the identification and protection of structures for addition to or deletion from the record of protected structures, RPS. Section 11 of the Act provides the procedures and process for the preparation of the draft development plan, including any buildings or structures to be included in the RPS. Section 12 of the Act stipulates the public consultation exercise to be undertaken for the draft development plan, including a public display period of a minimum ten-week duration, during which time members of the public and others may make submissions to the planning authority. Section 12(2) of provides that a notice under subsection (1) shall state that a copy of the draft may be inspected at a stated place or places and at stated times during a stated period of not less than ten weeks and that written submissions or observations with respect to the draft made to the planning authority within the stated period will be taken into consideration before the making of the plan.

Following consideration of submissions received by the planning authority, the elected members may subsequently propose that material alterations to the draft development plan be made under section 12(6) of the Planning and Development Act and a period of not less than four weeks' public consultation must be held for the receipt of submissions on same. The legislation governing the material alterations stage of the development plan preparation process does not explicitly specify that a planning authority may or may not add to or delete from the RPS at material alterations stage. However, this part of the legislation does not specify any type of proposed material amendment. It is understood that the scope of material alterations that may be made to the draft plan includes material alteration changes to the RPS. In this regard, it is significant to note that after public display of the proposed material alterations, when they are subject to final consideration by the elected members of the planning authority, the possibility for any further modifications to the RPS being introduced is specifically excluded at that stage under section 12(10)(c)(ii)(II) of the Planning and Development Act. It is of further note that the variation process under section 13 of the Act, which may include proposals to add to or delete from the RPS, is based on a public consultation period of not less than four weeks.

The Minister of State with responsibility for local government and planning is aware that the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Development Plan 2022-2028 is currently in preparation by the county council, with the publication of a draft plan expected shortly.

I await the Senator's commentary on the reply which I will report to the Minister of State.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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I thank the Minister of State for the reply but it has only caused more confusion. I was involved in putting through three county development plans. I refer the House to the expression "Don't teach your mother to suck eggs". The reality is that this reply has caused more confusion. I was hoping it would provide clarity in regard to this matter.

The reply confirms that there are two processes including the county development plan process of ten weeks after the draft is published. In the case of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, it has only eight weeks, not ten weeks. The legislation states ten weeks. If a county council has only eight weeks of public consultation, it falls short of the statutory process and, therefore, it cannot consider submissions. If it operates on the basis of a variation, as confirmed in the reply there is a statutory obligation of four weeks. There are two different strands of timeframe for the public consultation.

It is a difficult and complex issue. We need greater clarity on it. Following on from the Minister of State's reply I am none the wiser as to what is going to happen. People have contacted me. The elected members of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council have been told by the executive that there can be no further consideration of buildings under the record of protected structures during the lifetime of this plan and that it is a development plan process only. I am saying, and the Minister of State has confirmed - Galway County Council is doing this, which is good news for the Minister of State - that it can happen at any time subject to the proper processes in terms of a variation and, most important, the public consultation, which is two-way with the owners of the properties and the other people involved.

I thank the Minister of State for coming here to respond to this matter. As I said, it is a difficult one and I will follow up on it again with the Minister of State, Deputy Burke.

Photo of Anne RabbitteAnne Rabbitte (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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As identified by the Senator, there are two processes. Obviously, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council will not hit the bar in terms of the first one because it is a ten-week process, but my understanding is that if it engages in the material alterations stage, then if it needs to add or subtract, depending on the public representatives on the council, it is open to review on a continuous basis.