Tuesday, 23 November 2021
Planning and Development (Amendment) (Large-scale Residential Development) Bill 2021: Report and Final Stages
I welcome the Minister to the House. I wish to advise Members that this business will be concluded at 4.30 p.m. I remind them that a Senator may speak only once on Report Stage, with the exception of the proposer of the amendment, who may reply to discussion on the amendment. On Report Stage, each non-Government amendment must be seconded.
This amendment seeks to stipulate that when the Minister designates an amount of large-scale residential development, LRD, floor space which must be used for housing, the figure may only be higher than the 70% figure in this Bill. It is important that when we speak about LRD planning permission that it is used primarily to deliver housing and not for commercial interests. I have further amendments in respect of this which I will speak to regarding what the remaining 30% of land should be used for to foster sustainable communities. The crux of this amendment is what the Minister can stipulate in respect of that figure.
I thank Senator Ruane. This is one that we discussed at length on Committee Stage. My position has not changed. It is considered that these amendments would be overly prescriptive. We are changing it now to improve it from 15% to 30% but the intent is to allow the discretion with the local authority. I do not have to advise Senators that we had an extensive debate on Committee Stage when there was lots of really good interaction. This is about restoring planning to local authorities. If we are restoring it to local authorities, we need to allow them and the planners to make those decisions. I believe that up to 30% is the correct balance to strike. We want brownfield development and mixed development, particularly within our cities where there has been a massive issue with regard to viability. I thank the Senator for tabling the amendment but I have not changed my position and will not be accepting it.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 4, line 25, after “development” to insert the following: “with regard to the LRD floor space not used for the purposes of housing, a public consultation shall take place with individuals and community groups which the planning authority shall have due regard to in determinations of the granting of permissions for such floor space”.
This amendment relates to public participation in the shaping of the new residential areas which will be built using LRD planning and permission. With regard to LRD floor space not used for the purposes of housing, the amendment provides that there would be a public consultation for individuals and community groups which the planning authority would have regard to in the granting of permissions for that space. The Government has spoken a lot about this legislation and new processes in the delivery of housing but it is essential that the process seeks to engage the public as much as possible in the creation of new communities.
Amendment No. 10, similarly to amendment No. 9, will provide that with regard to student accommodation, the Minister shall provide for consultation with educational institutions, representative student bodies and elected members of the planning authority, who may in the course of such a consultation set out conditions in respect of student accommodation to which the planning authority must have due regard in rendering an opinion under section 32D.
We do not want to be overly prescriptive with regard to what the planners do. We need to ensure when we are bringing back planning to local government that we allow them to operate and make the decisions. The amendment relates to the definitions section of the Bill. I do not believe inserting an obligation on planning authorities in the definitions section is appropriate and the amendment does not provide for how and when such consultation would take place.
In respect of amendment No. 10, educational facilities, developments and consultation with educational institutions, student bodies and elected members of the planning authority, again we discussed this in some detail the last time.As part of a normal two-stage planning process, we believe that would be the time for submissions to be made where people are concerned by an application, or are positive or negative about it, and that they would do that by way of a submission. Again, both of these were discussed at some length on Committee Stage. I have not changed my view on them and I will oppose the amendments.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 4, line 36, to delete “academic term times” and substitute “the academic year”
This amendment, which was raised with the Minister by my colleague, Senator Higgins, on Committee Stage, seeks to change the period in which student accommodation can be used for purposes other than housing for students, from outside of the academic term time to outside the academic year. This is to address concerns that at Christmas, students who are revising for exams and students who may have to remain in student accommodation, in particular international students, do not have security of tenure in their accommodation.
Again, this amendment has been re-tabled. In fairness, Senator Higgins outlined her position on this and I explained why I did not believe it would be appropriate. My primary concern regarding student complexes is that they should not be used as permanent residential accommodation or as a hotel or hostel. I issued this circular a number of weeks ago. They are dedicated student accommodation complexes and that is how it should be, particularly always having regard to the general shortage of student accommodation. We are tackling the matter and intend for it to happen. I am happy that this provision is appropriate and it strikes the right balance for considering whether student accommodation development goes through the LRDs process. I cannot accept the amendment.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 6, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following:“(ea) details of the manner in which obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with a Disability, with due regard to the principle of universal design and regulations under Statutory Instrument Number 513 of 2010, have been reflected in the proposed development;”.
On Committee Stage similar amendments to this were proposed to be included in information that the Minister may prescribe as a requirement for an LRD meeting. This amendment is a requirement that information on how obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD, and Part M of the convention, have been reflected in the proposed development. We must ensure that the rights of people with disabilities to accessibility under Article 9, and to independent living under Article 19 of the UNCRPD are upheld and vindicated by the State when it comes to housing.
Amendment No. 5 stipulates that a calculation of the expected greenhouse gas emissions, including emissions from embodied energy expected through construction or demolition in the proposed development, should be included in information submitted before an LRD meeting. We need to take account of the impact of development on our emissions, to estimate those emissions, and to ensure that the most sustainable building practices are being used and are reflected in the law in Ireland.
Amendment No. 20 seeks to insert criteria into the determination of the application by the planning authority, particularly changes in building and planning guidelines, obligations under the UNCRPD, or other such issues that may have arisen as part of an area development planning process.
I thank Senator Ruane for these amendments. Again, we went through these in great detail on Committee Stage. I propose to address amendments Nos. 4 and 20 first. These are matters far more appropriate for building control and are dealt with in our building control and standards legislation rather than planning legislation. The area of the rights of persons with disabilities is one that we all espouse and we make sure that we do have universal design concepts in place too. To have this in the Bill, however, would simply take one element of building control and planning design and put it into the Bill as opposed to all others. We do not think it is appropriate to put these amendments into the Bill.
On amendment No. 5 and climate emissions, I debated this at length with Senator Higgins. The whole area of embodied carbon emissions is addressed in the climate action plan and construction products regulation. It is not appropriate for inclusion in this legislation.I cannot accept any of the three amendments.
I completely agree with the Minister. To express carbon emissions so thoroughly within a Bill is inappropriate. However, it would be remiss of me, as a member of the Joint Committee on Disability Matters, not to highlight the fact that witnesses have come before the committee to report that building regulations are not centred on their needs. Their ability to visit properties is catered for but their ability to stay over is not. People can come and visit but there is no requirement for their needs to be catered for further. It is fine if they are visiting the ground floor but there is no facility if they need to go upstairs. When we come to building regulations and all those other aspects, we must ensure the voices of people with disabilities are included at the centre of the discussion and influence the outcome so that there is nothing about us without us.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 6, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following: “(ea) a calculation of the expected greenhouse gas emissions, including emissions from embodied energy, expected through construction or demolition in the proposed development;”.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 6, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following: “(ea) details of the manner in which the local development plan or county development plan of the local authority in which the site is located is reflected in the proposed development;”.
My amendment in this grouping would stipulate that the developer must provide details of how the local or county development plans have been reflected in their proposed development ahead of the LRD meeting. It is welcome that we are returning to the two-stage planning process but we must ensure the voices of local government and local communities are enhanced in the planning process.
I wholly endorse this amendment. Without rehashing and going over what we said last week, participative engagement by citizens and elected members of city and county councils is vitally important. We need to see it in the context of a form of local government. I posed a question here last week and thereafter received calls from three sitting councillors in Limerick. I did not think too much about the issue until I received those phone calls yesterday. If we are to have an elected mayor of Limerick, as we and others have been advocating, that mayor would have no function under the new legislation we are bringing in. The mayor would be out of all of this. We may change legislation in the future but we must strengthen the powers of our elected members in local authorities. That engagement existed in the strategic housing development, SHD, process. It is important that the LRD process will restore the previous two-stage planning process by returning the primary decision-making functions to the planning authority and the appeal mechanism to An Bord Pleanála. As politicians, we sometimes get caught up in all the words and legislation but there must be three or four key measures, when one drills down into the matter. In fairness, the Minister has said that repeatedly. That is an important measure. When I leave this Chamber, I like to think that I take away some concise messages and retain the full integrity of what they mean when I pass them on. This is one of those key measures. We are going away from the terrible SHD process. We can forget about who was responsible and who prolonged that process. That was yesterday and it is in the past. Going forward, we will now have a two-stage process and I welcome that. I support this amendment, in particular.
I too welcome this amendment. My colleagues and I were happy on Committee Stage when the Minister indicated a positive attitude towards this amendment. I am aware that Senator Boyhan has worked with the Minister on this provision and I am glad that the role of the local authority members is being represented in this legislation. The habit of SHD applications working outside the relevant county development plans has been a bone of contention for councillors for years. I hope that our move towards this new LRD process will place a higher, more appropriate onus on the work of our local councillors in planning.
I thank the Senators for their contributions. We have discussed these amendments and they have a great deal of merit. The two amendments are similar. I said on Committee Stage that we would work together to see how we can move the situation forward. There is merit in such proposals although I did flag there may be issues around structure and wording.I note that the Senators have come back with a revised wording for such a provision. As I have said, amendments Nos. 6 and 7 are very similar but I am happy to accept an amendment in this regard. Given that amendments Nos. 6 and 7 aim to provide for a broadly similar provision, we do not need both amendments. I recognise that Senators Boyhan, Keogan, Higgins, Ruane, Craughwell and Black have all worked on similar amendments. Therefore, I am accepting amendment No. 7 as the wording is consistent with the general wording of the Bill. That is the amendment that Senators Boyhan and Keogan have just been talking about. I would genuinely like to thank all Senators from both sides of the House for the constructive nature of the discussions around this provision. To put it in context, Senator Boyhan is right when she says it is about bringing planning back to local government. The SHD process review said it was good that councillors were involved in the submission stage, but it only went to the board then. As we discussed on Second Stage and Committee Stage, we want to have both. When every application is lodged, every local elected representative is going to know about it. He or she must be informed about it. It must not happen on an ad hoc basis and must not depend on which council is involved. Every councillor will be advised when an LRD is applied for. I thank the Senators for amendment No. 6 but I cannot accept it. Amendment No. 7 is more precise and I am happy to accept it.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 6, between lines 13 and 14, to insert the following: “(ga) a statement setting out how the proposed LRD has had regard to the relevant objectives of the development plan or local area plan in whose area or areas the proposed LRD would be situated, and”.
I am conscious that we are under time pressure. We have discussed much of this before. It is disappointing that the Minister has not accepted the amendments we discussed on Committee Stage, which would retain the right of the city and county council. The Minister made his case with regard to it. We had a vote on it as well, and clearly it was not supported by any of the Government parties in the House.
It is important that city and county councils, given their collective views, their huge involvement locally and their huge knowledge of their communities, would be supported. This is a reasonable amendment. As I said before, it is important to value their contribution. All this amendment would do is give discretion to the planning authority to engage with local councillors ahead of an LRD meeting to get their perspectives on matters of interest or concern to the community that should be taken into consideration. After all, these people represent the community. Rather than having a situation where planners say to councils that they cannot discuss applications with them because the legislation bars them from doing so, we are proposing to give them the right and the discretion to engage. We must recognise that we are merely giving the planners some discretion. I recognise the enormous and valuable work done by planners. I want to put it on the record that they work hard, often under pressure in terms of resources, time and expertise.
Planning has become a complicated issue. I am saying it is important to send a clear message. I took the trouble to look at the number of Government Ministers, Deputies and Senators who have engaged or made objections. I remind the House that observations are not always negative. As the Minister said earlier, it can be an observation. We always talk in the negative. People can make positive contributions and positive statements in regard to planning. It does happen. I have certainly done it. I have sent in submissions of a positive nature.
I want the message to go out loud and clear today that we will support city and county councils in their efforts with the planners to have an opportunity to share their local knowledge and their understanding of the community. Ultimately, planners make decisions. We are back to a two-stage process. I reiterate that this proposal will not stop any individual councillor from sending in a submission in his or her own right. There is something to be gained in terms of that shared engagement.I like the idea that it is open and transparent. It is not a matter of someone having a word with a planner in a room; it is a matter of a formal meeting at which concerns are shared. Ultimately, it is an executive function of the planners to make the decision. I hope the Minister can support and accept the amendment.
I also call on the Minister to support and accept the amendment. It is a simple amendment, not one that forces the hand of or constrains the planning authority in any way. It simply adds an express reference to the elected members of the local authority where the legislation sets out that the planning authority may meet persons who have relevant information prior to the LRD meeting.
When we think of relevant information when it comes to planning, our councillors should be at the forefront of our minds. As Senator Boyhan pointed out, local ties, boots on the ground, the eyes and ears of the community and knowledge of the physical area and the social environment all serve to place our elected members in a prime position to contribute in an indispensable way to decisions made regarding planning in their areas. I hope the Minister will consider accepting the amendment.
I acknowledge the engagement the Minister had with Fianna Fáil councillors and other councillors through Senators. He fully understands the need for councillors to be able to engage. That will happen but it is important to put on the record of the House that the Minister has engaged widely with councillors, certainly through our group. He has attended meetings and explained his position to those in attendance. That has to be acknowledged. The Minister fully understands the importance of engagement with councillors.
Amendment No. 9 relates to the proposed development of student accommodation. When such development is proposed through the LRD process, there should be consultation with "community groups, residents' groups from the affected areas, member groups of public participation networks, student unions, groups with relevant heritage or environmental expertise".
I thank the Senators. We accepted the previous amendment, but we cannot accept every amendment. I will give the reasons we cannot accept those under discussion. We have discussed this. Let me return to the original point. This is about restoring planning functions to local authorities, which is what the Government wants; however, it is also about restoring the primacy of the development plans. We discussed this the other night. I refer to the crucial matter of having boots on the ground whereby councillors have the reserve function to put together development plans because they know their areas. It is from them that the plans emanate. The purpose of the LRD arrangement is to have a return to the two-stage process. The primacy of the development plans is restored, and this is also the case in respect of the local area plans and master plans.
On consultation, let me refer again to the proposed section 32B(4). It states: "The planning authority may, prior to the LRD meeting taking place, consult with any person who may, in the opinion of the planning authority, have information that is relevant for the purposes of the LRD meeting in relation to a proposed development." This is very clear although I understand where Senators want to get to. I outlined to Senator Higgins the last day my view on the idea of a local authority reaching out beyond the public consultation process and asking a myriad of groups what they think. We are trying to streamline and improve the planning process while recognising that, in many areas of planning, there are roadblocks that inhibit the development of homes for students and others. We need to make the system better while restoring local authority responsibility. I am not accepting either amendment, but I thank the Senators for their contributions.
I am disappointed. I will be pushing this to a vote, partly because I have given a commitment to the city and county councils that I will pursue it. I went through the legislation line by line and thought really hard about this matter. This is where I stitched it in the provision because, as the Minister has rightly said, it allows the planning authority to engage with a community. All we are asking for is an explicit reference to elected members of local authorities. It is very simple. Instead of using the proposed mechanism, let us put a reference in primary legislation. Do we believe in the city and county councils? Do we really believe they have a role to play? Do we really believe they will not interfere with, or undermine, the system?Do we really believe they have a role to play? Do we really believe they will not interfere with or undermine the system? I believe in them. More importantly, the AILG and LAMA came before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government and made a very strong case for this. They are on the record and on the report for that meeting as having done so. I understand from talking to them as early as this morning that they were clear. Their understanding is that the executive took a decision. They submitted two papers to the committee and I gave a commitment at that committee that I would stand by them and support them. Ultimately, Members make decisions. I want to stand by the decision I made to them. The AILG and LAMA sought this in their submissions. They are representative bodies of the city and county councils. It is a reasonable request to allow this additional line including elected local authority members. I am somewhat surprised that we did not get that from the Minister, but that is his call. I will push this amendment to a roll call vote.
I refer the Senators to section 34 of the principal Act which, as amended on Committee Stage, means that every councillor will know when every application is lodged under this process. It states:
Where a planning authority receives an application for permission to which section 32A(1) applies it shall— (a) notify the elected members of the planning authority of the making of the application, of where the application is available for inspection, and of such other information as may be prescribed.
That removes any discretion. Planning lists were being issued on an ad hocbasis in certain local authorities. I respect our councillors, as Senator Boyhan knows. This Government, since taking office, has done work on councillors' terms and conditions, maternity leave, with the Minister of State, Deputy Burke, me and others, and restoring powers to local government. We will continue to do that.
I understand the thrust of the Senators' amendments. I do not think they are required. They might in one respect be overly onerous for many in that they apply to every single application that is made. I have already allowed for the fact that, and made sure that, the planning authority lets every elected member of that local authority be aware of this. I thank the Senators for tabling their amendments but I will not accept them.
Garret Ahearn, Catherine Ardagh, Jerry Buttimer, Malcolm Byrne, Maria Byrne, Micheál Carrigy, Pat Casey, Shane Cassells, Martin Conway, Ollie Crowe, Paul Daly, Regina Doherty, Aisling Dolan, Mary Fitzpatrick, Robbie Gallagher, Róisín Garvey, Pippa Hackett, Gerry Horkan, Tim Lombard, Erin McGreehan, Eugene Murphy, Fiona O'Loughlin, Joe O'Reilly, Pauline O'Reilly, Ned O'Sullivan, Mary Seery Kearney, Barry Ward.
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 6, after line 41, to insert the following:“(4A) Consultations referred to in subsection (4) may include, but is not limited to, community groups, residents’ groups from the affected areas, member groups of public participation networks, student unions, groups with relevant heritage or environmental expertise.”.
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 7, between lines 5 and 6, to insert the following:“(6) With respect to information provided under subsection (3)(a) with regard to student accommodation, the Minister shall provide for consultation with educational institutions, representative student bodies and elected members of the planning authority, who may in the course of such a consultation set out conditions in respect of student accommodation, which the planning authority must have due regard to in rendering an opinion under section 32D.”.
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 8, between lines 7 and 8, to insert the following:“(1A) The planning authority shall make the opinion available on its website, together with a copy of plans and other details discussed at the consultation meeting, upon lodgement of the LRD application.”.
These are the final two amendments in my name. I will be withdrawing amendment No. 11 with the agreement of the House.
Amendment No. 12 states:
In page 8, between lines 17 and 18, to insert the following:“(2A) The LRD opinion issued by a planning authority under subsection (1) shall be made public when a planning application in respect of the proposed development is made in accordance with section 34.”.
I thank the Minister and his officials for the engagement I have had with them. One issue I had to return to, having thought about it, relates to the independent review body. I am now satisfied, having had a detailed read of the body's report. It noted the highly problematic matter of the deficit in community consultation in respect of SHDs. It stated:
Although pre-application meetings with both the Planning Authority and the Board may take place over many months prior to a SHD application being lodged, the general public – and local residents in particular – have no knowledge about the proposal, and will have only 5 weeks to inform themselves about the application and (if they so wish) prepare a submission to the Board. With larger and more complex SHD applications, this can cause resentment and a perception of being excluded from the process.
We consider that the making the Board's 'Opinion' available to the public following the submission of a SHD planning application, together with a copy of the plans and other details discussed at the tripartite consultation, would alert interested members of the public in relation to a prospective application. However, they would need to be informed about the availability of the Opinion, e.g. by means of the Planning Authority’s weekly list of applications and decisions [or its website or whatever mechanism a planning authority would use, or may use, in future].
The amendment will give effect to the review body's proposal in the cases of the LRDS. While it will do little to address the democratic deficit this legislation retains or to remove it, it will ensure the community has the maximum information at its disposal at the point where it has to get to grips with what are very complex issues for many laypersons, such as the application itself and related issues.
I could go on but I think the Minister has got the gist of what I am seeking. I can give more detail, depending on his response. I hope he will accept the amendment.
I, too, hope the Minister will accept the amendment. It will allow for increased community consultation with regard to large-scale residential developments. It will be a great improvement on what is quite often a deficit in communication with regard to SHDs. Involving community stakeholders is a must in regard to developments of this size on account of the profound impacts they will have on areas and communities.
The purpose of the legislation is to get communities involved. Senator Boyhan quoted from the review committee's report, which relates to SHDs, but the SHDs will cease to exist on 17 December. New applications will be through the LRD, with the exception of the transitionary arrangements that are in place.I understand where the Senator is coming from with the two amendments. We discussed the matter at length on Committee Stage. The language in amendment No. 12 better reflects what we want done. I want transparency within the process. The Senator intends to withdraw amendment No. 11. My officials worked directly with him on this. I will accept amendment No. 12. I believe it improves the legislation.
I move amendment No. 12:
In page 8, between lines 17 and 18, to insert the following: “(2A) The LRD opinion issued by a planning authority under subsection (1) shall be made public when a planning application in respect of the proposed development is made in accordance with section 34.”.
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 8, after line 44, to insert the following: “Insertion of section 32H into Principal Act
32H. Where new regulations with regard to planning, including regulation in respect of the environment and disability, supplementary documentation must be submitted to the planning authority by applicants who have received permission under section 32A(1), but where the development has not commenced, which demonstrate incorporation of any new regulations.”.
This amendment would require that, in the case of new regulations with regard to planning, including regulations in respect of the environment and disability, supplementary documentation which demonstrates incorporation of any new regulations must be submitted to the planning authority by applicants who have received large-scale residential development, LRD, permission but whose development has not commenced. I put that on the record on behalf of Senator Higgins.
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 8, after line 44, to insert the following: “Insertion of section 32I into Principal Act
32I.(1) Where new European Union Directives are issued in respect of building standards or planning, applicants who have received LRD permission must provide supplementary documentation to the planning authority demonstrating how the applicant has incorporated the new Directives into their development.
(2) Where a new LRD application must be made in respect of subsection (1) the State shall not be liable for any costs incurred by the applicant.”.
I move amendment No. 15:
In page 8, after line 44, to insert the following: “Insertion of section 32J into Principal Act
32J. Where an application for planning permission to which section 32A(1) applies has been granted but construction has not commenced on that site within a period of 36 months following the decision of the planning authority, such planning permission shall be revoked.”.
This amendment relates to the "use it or lose it" clause. I believe it is a good idea. Where construction has not commenced within 36 months, the permission would be revoked. It is a very good amendment but, on behalf of Senator Higgins, I will withdraw it.
I move amendment No. 16:
In page 8, after line 44, to insert the following: “Insertion of section 32K into Principal Act
32K.Where an application for planning permission to which section 32A(1) applies has been the subject of more than five successful judicial reviews, the applicant shall not be eligible to apply for LRD planning permission for a period of two years.”.
I move amendment No. 17:
In page 8, after line 44, to insert the following: “Insertion of section 32L into Principal Act
32L.Where an applicant has received LRD planning permission and wishes to sell the site, the applicant shall not do so with the LRD planning permission attached to it. Thus, the LRD planning permission is revoked upon the sale of the site to another person.”.
I move amendment No. 18:
In page 9, to delete lines 13 to 17 and substitute the following: “ “(1B) Where a planning authority receives an application for permission to which section 32A(1) applies it shall—(a) notify the elected members of the planning authority of the making of the application, of where the application is available for inspection, and of such other information as may be prescribed, and
(b) at the next meeting of each Area Committee concerned, or of the municipal district members for each municipal district concerned, as appropriate, inform the relevant elected members of—(i) the details of the application, and
(ii) the consultations and meetings that have taken place in relation to the proposed development.”,”.
The Minister spoke about bringing planning back to local government. That is what we are trying to do.He and other speakers have mentioned the importance of councillors in the planning function, and this is an attempt to do that with regard to notification of planning applications to be discussed. That is why we are proposing it. We discussed it on the previous occasion as well. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.
I appreciate that we debated this at some length. I want the involvement of elected councillors. I reiterate that what the Government is doing, in fairness with the support of the Opposition heretofore, is restoring planning to the local authorities. The primacy of the development plan is very important. I have read into the record the two sections whereby councillors will be directly involved. Every application lodged under this process will not just be copied to every councillor, but every councillor will be notified as a matter of course and not at the discretion of the local authority. We want to ensure that while we are doing this, we are streamlining the planning process as well and making it more efficient and effective while giving people a chance to have their say. The first observation period will be at the stage when an application is lodged, and rightly so. Councillors will have the ability to make their views known for free at that stage. Then, should somebody not be happy with the decision, it can go to An Bord Pleanála as was previously the case prior to SHDs for developments of more than 100 units.
In this instance, I understand the purpose of both amendments being tabled. I also discussed this with Senator Fitzpatrick. We would like to have an opportunity to consider this in a little more detail in advance of the Bill going to the Dáil. There is something in them, but I do not want to create another step in the planning process. I thank Senators Wall, Sherlock, Moynihan, Hoey, Fitzpatrick and Davitt for tabling these amendments. I have had some discussion on them. We will have a look at this in advance of going to the Dáil and I will reference the Seanad, if that is okay.
I wish to comment briefly on this. If I do not do so now in respect of amendment No. 18, amendment No. 19 will have been discussed. I will move amendment No. 19, but I will speak to it now. The amendments are similar in nature and are grouped together. I was a member of a local authority for 12 and a half years and many Members were members of local authorities for various periods of time. It is vital that councillors have their say and an involvement, but I take on board that the Minister is going to reflect on this and, hopefully, bring the spirit of this into the legislation when it goes through the Lower House. I will be happy to move and withdraw the amendment when we reach it.
I will not delay the debate, but I acknowledge the comments from Senator Wall and the Minister. The amendments are quite similar, but the most important thing is that it clearly states that there will be this for councillors, because they will have to be notified. That is important, and councillors have been telling us that. I acknowledge the fact that the Minister will have a look at this and, hopefully, we will have a situation where councillors will have this notification put in place.
I move amendment No. 19:
In page 9, to delete lines 13 to 17 and substitute the following: “ “(1B) Where a planning authority receives an application for permission to which section 32A(1) applies it shall--(a) notify the elected members of the planning authority of the making of the application, of where the application is available for inspection, and of such other information as may be prescribed, and
(b) at the next meeting of each Area Committee concerned, or of the municipal district members for each municipal district concerned, as appropriate, inform the relevant elected members of the details of the application.”,”.
I move amendment No. 20:
In page 9, line 28, after “environment,” to insert the following: “changes in building and planning guidelines, obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with a Disability or other such issues that may have arisen as part of an area development planning process,”.
I move amendment No. 21:
In page 10, between lines 3 and 4, to insert the following: “Limit of duration of permission
6. Section 40 of the Principal Act is amended by the insertion of the following subsection after subsection (3):“(4) Notwithstanding subsection (3), where a planning authority grants a permission to which section 32A(1) applies—(a) ‘the appropriate period’ means the period of 12 months beginning on the date of the grant of permission, and
(b) section 41 shall not apply in relation to the permission.”.”.
This was discussed on Committee Stage. I would like to hear the comments of the Minister again. It about using or losing planning permission. We are all aware of the problems with SHDs. The Bill attempts to deal with that. We all want something good to come out of this and to ensure that planning comes back to where we all want to be. We have tabled this amendment because we do not want land held on an extended basis.
I take this amendment in the spirit in which it has been tabled. We discussed this issue in great detail on Committee Stage. In terms of using it or losing it, I want permissions that have been granted to be activated. We need to do that. It is something that can be done through the introduction of the zoned land tax, land value sharing and other measures that we are bringing forward. For large-scale developments, I genuinely think setting a 12-month timeframe would be really problematic. There was a general understanding that good permissions that had been granted could not be activated if this clause was introduced. I do not mean this in a condescending way. I know the spirit in which the amendment has been tabled is well meaning. We all want to make sure that permissions are activated. Setting an arbitrary 12-month limit would cause a problem. I have not changed my views since Committee Stage and I cannot accept amendment No. 21.
For the record, I am looking to keep things the same. How could there be a cost on the Exchequer if there is no change being made? I am seeking to delete the section, so there could not possibly be a cost or charge to the Exchequer.
This is about providing a consultation in respect of the development under subsection (7), which currently provides that no consultation would be required where a planning authority receives received a request under this section. I am happy to withdraw the amendment on behalf of Senator Higgins.
I move amendment No. 26:
In page 16, between lines 27 and 28, to insert the following: “Insertion of section 247A into Principal Act 16. The Principal Act is amended by the insertion of the following section after section 247:“247A.With regard to a development to which section 32A(1) relates—(a) the planning authority shall convene a final consultation meeting within four weeks of receipt of the prospective applicant’s request, to be attended by the planning authority, the prospective applicant or his/her representative, or both, and planning authority officials who have sufficient level of relevant knowledge and expertise in the matter concerned and members of the public, who may subsequently submit observations to the planning authority within two weeks,
(b) the planning authority on receipt of the request, may issue the documentation received, or parts thereof, to any relevant prescribed bodies that in the opinion of the planning authority may have relevant observations in relation to the proposed development including relevant Community organisations,
(c) the failure of a prescribed body to respond to a request under paragraph (b) shall not prevent the planning authority from proceeding under section 247A to deal with the request concerned,
(d) the planning authority shall be required, within six weeks of the holding of the final consultation meeting, to form, and issue to the prospective applicant, and other relevant prescribed bodies, an opinion as to whether the documents submitted for the final consultation meeting constitute a reasonable basis for making an application for permission for the proposed development.”.
Senator Higgins has been contacted by several residents and groups seeking more input into the planning process in respect of LRD developments. This would involve additional consultation in that regard and I would welcome a response from the Minister.
We have discussed this point at some length. I am opposing this amendment because it effectively adds an additional level of consultation to the LRD process and what we are doing, effectively, in this legislation is to allow for proper consultation. Bringing planning back to local authorities means that residents or any interested groups will be able to make their observations at the first stage and will not have to wait until an application goes to An Bord Pleanála. The current situation partially accounted for why we have seen an increase in judicial reviews, because groups and interested parties felt they did not have a say during the initial stage. This proposed amendment seeks to add another layer to the consultation process, but we have greatly improved that aspect already in this legislation. I am, therefore, opposing the amendment.
Amendment No. 27 in the names of Senators Warfield, Boylan, Gavan and Ó Donnghaile arises out of committee proceedings. Amendments Nos. 27 and 28 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I thank Senator Wall. The Minister is not accepting these amendments, but I appeal to him in this regard. He said this SHD process was going to end in February, but it is not ending then and will continue into April for the first category of applicants and into June for the second category of applicants. Neither I nor my party see any justification for giving a period of 16 weeks to those people who have got their pre-planning approval. We propose to give them eight weeks instead.
Regarding the second category, concerning those people putting their applications in now, we believe they should be rolled into the proposed new LRD process and not given access to the SHD process next year. We must end this thing. The Minister made a point regarding how we had opposed transitional arrangements in this context, but this is essentially an invitation for people to get their applications in. The Minister has a terrible habit of saying he is going to do something, and then we get the longest goodbye possible, accompanied with an invitation for people to get their applications in. We saw that happen with co-living and we see it here again. Therefore, I am pressing my amendments and I will bring them to full votes, but I appeal to the Minister to accept them.
We have discussed this aspect already. I welcome the Senators' engagement with this legislation and thank them for it. I genuinely welcome that Members of all parties and none are supporting this legislation which will bring a significant change to the planning process. It is required. I also welcome Senator Warfield and his party coming around to accepting the need for a transitional arrangement, unlike on Second Stage, where they did not believe that transitional arrangements were needed at all.
Passing this Bill would see the new LRD process start from 17 December, and that is what we are aiming for. If applicants have engaged with the additional SHD process, through the formal pre-planning process, then it is not possible to move them out of that process and into another one. It is not a long goodbye and we are not extending this situation. It was the same with co-living, by the way, where we had to include screening for a month. We did what we said we would do with co-living and this Government has ended that concept.
The reality, however, is that we must provide for a transition in this case, and we are doing that. We have outlined the process and the timelines involved clearly. Subject to the legislation being passed by the Oireachtas and signed into law, we aim to have the new LRD process commence from 17 December. Therefore, I think we have moved as quickly as we can. Most people will understand that applications in the current system must conclude under the planning system and law that pertained when they were submitted.If we do not do that then we would be open to challenge of all types. It is better to have a clean cut with this and that is what we are doing.
I understand that the Senator seeks to reduce the number of weeks from 16 to eight but I cannot accept either of the amendments.
Garret Ahearn, Catherine Ardagh, Niall Blaney, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Malcolm Byrne, Maria Byrne, Micheál Carrigy, Pat Casey, Martin Conway, Ollie Crowe, Paul Daly, Regina Doherty, Aisling Dolan, Timmy Dooley, Mary Fitzpatrick, Robbie Gallagher, Róisín Garvey, Pippa Hackett, Gerry Horkan, Tim Lombard, Erin McGreehan, Eugene Murphy, Fiona O'Loughlin, Joe O'Reilly, Pauline O'Reilly, Ned O'Sullivan, Mary Seery Kearney, Barry Ward.
Garret Ahearn, Catherine Ardagh, Niall Blaney, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Malcolm Byrne, Maria Byrne, Micheál Carrigy, Pat Casey, Martin Conway, Ollie Crowe, Paul Daly, Regina Doherty, Aisling Dolan, Timmy Dooley, Mary Fitzpatrick, Robbie Gallagher, Róisín Garvey, Pippa Hackett, Gerry Horkan, Tim Lombard, Erin McGreehan, Eugene Murphy, Fiona O'Loughlin, Joe O'Reilly, Pauline O'Reilly, Ned O'Sullivan, Mary Seery Kearney, Barry Ward.
I move amendment No. 29:
In page 17, after line 42, to insert the following: "Report on operation of Act
18.The Minister shall, within 30 months of the passing of this Act, lay a report before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage outlining—(a) the proportion of sites, expressed as a percentage, which have been granted LRD planning permission where construction has not commenced,
(b) the proportion of sites, expressed numerically and as a percentage, which have been granted LRD planning permission and have subsequently been sold,
(c) the proportion of land, expressed in hectares, which is the subject of LRD planning permission and is owned by real estate investment trusts, and
(d) the number of completed housing units under the LRD process which remain vacant.".
We need to know this process is delivering housing and is not being exploited for profit or dominated by the real estate investment trusts, REITs, which are not delivering the housing we need in the State.
We discussed this on Committee Stage. I thank the Senators for retabling the amendment. I want the permissions to bring about homes for people. That is what we earnestly want. It means a big change in the process. I say genuinely respectfully that this amendment, as written, would be absolutely unworkable. I envisage the Oireachtas committee having a role in seeking information on what permissions have been granted and activated, but the amendment refers to "within 30 months of the passing of this Act". The legislation will pass with the Senators' support and will be in effect from 17 December this year. There is a lead-in period, which we have discussed, but new applications that have not been in the process will start to come in after 17 December. Even though we are going to have very strict timeframes, we need to get the process up and running.We will have the pre-application stage, the application stage, the decision stage and the potential to go to the board. For any applicant to say that he or she will be in a position to outline what is requested here - and I went through this with Senators Higgins and Black on Committee Stage - just would not be possible as outlined. However, I can see the role of the joint committee and certainly at the local authority that people would be able to request information of others. We will have a fully transparent process. We want to make sure we have a process that is streamlined, that will deliver homes for people and that is not going to just deliver enhanced values on paper permissions. That is what this Government wants to do. That is why this legislation is so important and why, to be fair, the Seanad has enabled its swift passage and why I introduced it in this House - so we could tease through a lot of these issues.
Respectfully, I cannot accept amendment No. 29.
Lots of legislation contains review clauses in it or calls for reports to either both Houses or the relevant committee. I do not really understand why it is not workable. Is it the timeframe? Is it the 30 months? Is there an alternative way that we can ensure we can report to both Houses on this information just in a different way?
I have no difficulty at all looking at what we can do here by way of reporting. The Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage, on which I served during the term of the previous Oireachtas, will regularly seek details overall. We would have seen details on SHD. Regarding even the division of the four different items, the Senator is being very prescriptive as to what is looked for, and I cannot give a guarantee that we will be able within the first 30 months to have those data. Of course we will have data, and what we want to see is a throughput of applications that are granted permissions. We are seeing activation of those permissions. We can look at what we could do, maybe through the Oireachtas joint committee. I will have a look at that between now and the Bill's passage through the Dáil to see if there is another mechanism we can use. All legislation is up for review at any stage. It will be open to Senator Ruane, as a Senator and a legislator, be it Dáil or Seanad legislation, to bring forward amending legislation that would mean that a Minister would have to come to the House if there were elements of the legislation with which she was not happy. This is a big piece of legislation and a lot of work has gone into it that we know will improve the SHD process, replacing it, taking what was good out of it, including the pre-application process, but then restoring our planning to local government.
I thank the Senator for the amendment. I cannot accept it here today but we will certainly look at elements of it to see whether they are workable.
I thank all Senators for their input and thank my officials. It has been a very informative, useful and progressive debate as the Bill moved through Second Stage and on to Committee and Report Stages. The House will have seen that where we have been able to accept amendments, we have done so and worked with Senators. We will look at a couple of items between now and the debate in the Dáil. I thank the Cathaoirleach, the team in the Seanad and my officials for the efficient and expeditious way in which this legislation has moved through Seanad Éireann over the past week.