Dáil Éireann - Volume 486 - 29 January, 1998
Private Members' Business. - Local Government (Planning and Development) Bill, 1997: Second Stage (Resumed).
Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”
Mr. Hayes Mr. Hayes
Mr. Hayes: It is ridiculous that appeals to An Bord Pleanála are treated equally regardless of the area from which they emanate. A person who lives on Malin Head, for example, can object to a development in Dublin and his or her objection will be given equal treatment with an objection from somebody who lives beside the proposed development in Dublin. We have lost sight of that aspect of the process. Is it also true that an EU citizen can lodge an objection to a development in Ireland with An Bord Pleanála, even though the person lives outside the jurisdiction? It has come to my notice that a number of commercial entities are objecting to developments with the sole intention of obstructing them for their own commercial advantage.
An Bord Pleanála is central to this Bill. In 1998 the Minister can increase the number of ordinary members of the board from five to seven. A quorum of three members is required for all board meetings. Will the increase in the number of board members mean an increase in the number of members required for a quorum?
As a result of the unwieldy system in An Bord Pleanála at present, decision making is slow and cumbersome, despite the improvements of recent years. I do not oppose the power of the Minister to make appointments. However, having made his decision on receipt of the nominations from the four nominating groups, it might be useful if he gave reasons for appointing the nominees — whether it was because the person concerned had planning expertise or an engineering background or a local authority background. Such a simple  explanation would suffice as we need not be too concerned about the people appointed to the board. An addendum to the appointment decision should include the reason the Minister chose to appoint the person to the board.
It is noticeable that inspectors' reports are often thrown out after they have been sent to the board. That is not healthy. The board should give its reasons for deciding to countravene the inspectors' report, which in effect emanates from technical people who have expertise in planning, engineering and so forth.
One could say a great deal more about this issue. I welcome the Bill. The increase in the number of board members will, I hope, lead to more efficient and effective use of the board's time. Anything that can be done in that regard should have the support of all parties in the House.
Ms Clune Ms Clune
Ms Clune: I thank Deputy Hayes for sharing his time with me. This Bill is welcome. It seeks to address delays in the planning system by extending the membership of An Bord Pleanála. That extension should also be applied to the inspectorate by increasing the number of inspectors. There is a huge workload in the planning process which, among other reasons, is due to the economic boom and the increasing willingness of people to exercise their democratic right of appeal. However, the board's time should not be taken up with frivolous appeals. Appeals against planning decisions which do not contravene plans for an area should not be allowed to proceed to An Bord Pleanála.
A number of Members have referred to inspectors' reports which have been thrown out by An Bord Pleanála. I agree with their sentiments. There should be openness and transparency in the decisions of the board and it should be required to explain why it rejected an inspector's report or rejected an appeal. There must be confidence in the planning system and the decisions by An Bord Pleanála. That has not been the case in a number of instances.
One such instance is Cork Harbour where the ESB applied for planning permission to install 22 kilometres of overhead cables and pylons. It has been dubbed the “ring of steel” around the harbour. There were many local objections to the plan but Cork County Council gave planning permission. The permission was appealed by local residents to An Bord Pleanála. A petition signed by 6,000 residents in the area was forwarded to the board. They objected to the granting of planning permission but the board did not see fit to hold an oral hearing on the matter. That decision has become a contentious issue in the area and is the subject of great local interest and concern.
The Cork Harbour area depends on tourism and a number of luxury liners visit Cork regularly. The appearance of the harbour will not be helped by the installation of a ring of steel around Cobh and Cork Harbour. I do not wish to condemn the development outright but there must  be another way to install cables in the area. The contention in Cork is that cables should be provided underground. I believe that is possible and it should be investigated, although the ESB has rejected it as being too expensive. A figure of £20 million was mentioned. In 20 years' time, my children will look at this ring of steel and will ask questions about it because the way money is devaluing £20 million will not be very significant then. This permission is unsustainable and should be looked at in that light.
There are a number of issues regarding planning and the speed at which decisions are reached. I know this Bill tries to address the speed at which planning applications are dealt with and appoints more members to An Bord Pleanála for that purpose. That is right. If it is said a decision will be made within four months, everything in the power of the authorities should be done to grant decisions within that timeframe.
The Minister should also pay attention to the notion of fast track planning. The idea is that tracts of land would be identified and zoned for industrial or commercial development with planning permission for the lands being given in advance of the development. There is no doubt that a number of major developments in Cork and other areas have been deterred by the lengthy planning process. My proposal would have the various stages of the planning process dealt with prior to the company coming to Cork or any other area. This would mean the preparation of environmental impact statements would be carried out at an earlier stage. This works well in areas of the UK. Siemens said one of its reasons for locating in the UK instead of here was the lengthy planning process. It is something which should be addressed. We should not interfere with the democratic planning process, but it could be curtailed and the fact that it takes a long time for companies and individuals to obtain planning permission, especially given the long lead-in time where appeals may be lodged, should be addressed. These statutory zones would be subject to consultation with local people and local development. They would be given special designation and details of planning, such as the types of buildings and the number of windows in them and the number of car park spaces, would be dealt with before companies invested in the area.
We have an open, democratic planning system. Not many countries have boards like An Bord Pleanála, which is independent and suits our democratic needs. It is welcome, but it should also be given assistance to deal with the large volume of work it is experiencing at present.
Mr. Roche Mr. Roche
Mr. Roche: This is a simple Bill which I welcome for two reasons. First, it aims to help overcome what has become one of the many bottlenecks in planning. Second, it gives us an opportunity to say something about the whole planning process.
It is my firm belief that Ireland's planning process is at a crossroads at present. Scandals,  rumours of scandals, inconsistent decisions, delays in issuing planning decisions, delays in handling appeals, irrational and sometimes completely inexplicable decisions added to the poor completion of estates and failures to deal with non-compliant builders all contribute to a lack of public confidence in the planning process which I suggest is now escalating to the point where there is something of a crisis of confidence in planning. I welcome the proposals in the Bill as they will help to remove a bottleneck in An Bord Pleanála. It is to be hoped that they will provide a degree of flexibility in that regard. However, it is my belief that we must go much further than this Bill if we are to address the already evident and abundant problems in planning. What we need at this stage is a root and branch overhaul and examination of the entire planning process, including how it is controlled and how it operates.
The health of the economy and the related boom in the building industry are very welcome. Irish builders have been through a long dry period where they had to lay off staff, where some very respectable companies went out of business and where margins were very thin. I welcome the change which has come about. It is about time they had better prospects. The boom times bring their own challenges, not just for builders but also for planners, house buyers and the community in general. In this debate we are discussing the problems in planning. The Bill aims to assist An Bord Pleanála with its work and that is very welcome. There are other planning pressures which are very evident, especially in the major urban areas and they also need the attention of the Minister and the Department.
The upturn in building and development has placed a strain on planning departments in councils. Every Member could point to a problem in some planning department within their constituencies. The strain has four obvious manifestations. First and most obvious is the delay in processing planning applications at local authority level. Second is the very serious delays which are now beginning to occur in the production of development plans in the urban and county areas. The third major problem concerns the controlling of development, with the result that there has been a regrettable re-emergence of a range of rogue developers who are now causing major problems, especially for young home owners. The fourth problem has been the extraordinary escalation in development charges in a number of councils. There is a need to investigate some of these charges because it is evident that some local authorities are using development charges as a form of tax to bring in general revenue not necessarily associated with the developments in question.
Delays in dealing with planning applications are becoming a major problem in all areas, but particularly so in major urban areas. This is most evident in the case of Dublin and the surrounding counties. As a result of the near chaos in planning  in some areas, a second factor has entered the picture: the rise in litigation and judicial reviews relating to planning. Judicial reviews have now become a major feature of the Irish planning process. In County Wicklow, for example, the county council had an increase in excess of 20 per cent in planning applications in 1997 over 1996, which itself was up 10 per cent on the previous year. The council has also been involved in a number of spectacular judicial reviews, some of which would not have occurred if the council had adopted a less confrontational approach to some of the planning activities before it. The huge cost of reviews and the rise in planning applications has resulted in crisis management. Planning applications are long-fingered as a matter of routine. Council staff increasingly resort to last minute decisions, some of which are ill-considered, or alternatively, put back the evil day on which they must make a decision by requesting further information. All this has had its impact on public confidence.
Public confidence has been further undermined by the delays in producing development plans. The excuse and explanation, which is reasonable, is that councils simply do not have the staff to produce them. Many councils are operating on plans which we know to be out of date which in itself is causing major difficulties. It means ad hoc approaches must be adopted, especially in areas where planning pressures are at their greatest. There have been recent first hand examples of the consequence of this in County Wicklow. For example, the new zoning of Blessington was agreed by the council in the teeth of huge opposition from the public and me and a number of other councillors. This resistance was not mere NIMBYism but was from people who wished to protect a unique environment. The irony of the Glen Ding case is that a landowner who attempted to build a house for a son or daughter on the hills concerned would have properly been refused permission. The same council has carried out a complete and inexcusable turnabout on its previous position and has given permission to remove the hills.
A number of Wicklow councillors have added insult to injury by rezoning a significant amount of land in the vicinity of Blessington's industrial estate for further housing. This was done despite housing staff advice that it was unnecessary. This was dealt with in a fine judgment last week in the High Court. However, it does not help to build public confidence in the planning process.
The third problem is the major failure in planning control. This is adding to the erosion of public confidence yet it is on the increase and requires urgent attention. Regrettably, we are seeing the re-emergence of that most unwelcome phenomenon — the rogue builder. The tragedy is that the few bad apples in the building industry are causing problems for communities, new house buyers and decent builders who wish to comply with regulations and try to give good value for money. These decent builders are being tarred  with the same brush. This problem undermines public confidence. It is creating additional problems for councils who do not have the staff to ensure that builders meet every detail of the planning conditions. A major part of the problem is that councils are not capable of implementing any kind of inspection of developments. Too frequently, councils lack staff. In some cases there is also a question mark over their willingness to take on the big issue of compliance.
The situation is dreadfully unjust, not only for people who buy the houses and buildings and have to live work in them. It is also unfair on decent builders who try to comply with the conditions and meet all the costs of development while others get away with cutting corners and leaving the costs to be met by someone else — local taxpayers and local authorities which are already strapped for cash. When estates are not finished properly, or where major problems emerge three or four years after an estate is handed over, the local authority has to add to such bonds and securities which exist to carry out the work which should have been done in the first instance by the developers. Regrettably, there are more than sufficient case studies on this problem in County Wicklow.
The most exasperating aspect of this problem is the number of times that the same rogue builders appear on the list of problem makers. Last month I wrote a letter to the county manager accompanied by seven pages of complaints concerning a well-highlighted estate in Wicklow town. I also sent a letter with a further four pages of complaints to the same council about another estate in the same town built by the same builder. Yesterday I wrote a letter to the council and to Homebond regarding a third estate in the same town by the same builder. How is this allowed to happen? Home owners on these estates and those who care about good development are asking how it is that builders with a history of leaving devastation behind them are given planning permission. It is ludicrous.
In one estate in Wicklow town 15 people who occupied brand new houses in the last 12 months are contemplating legal action. This is grotesquely unfair. It is particularly unfair when other estates are being built in the same area by builders who are scrupulously attempting to meet the terms and responsibilities of their planning permission. It is unfair to a council which is grossly understaffed. We do not have the personnel to carry out the scrupulous inspection which is needed. This is a serious issue, not just for the Minister and local authorities, but for bodies such as the Construction Industry Federation. The CIF, Homebond and other professional bodies must have an interest in becoming pro-active in ensuring that home buyers get value for money and that estates are not left unfinished by rogue builders in a way which brings the entire industry into disrepute. The Minister should examine this matter. He should bar those with a bad record from being allowed to increment that bad record  by further irresponsible development in other estates.
Development charges is the final issue which is causing grave concern in my area and others. It is important that when a development goes ahead the economic costs are not transferred to general taxation or to the local authority. There is evidence that a number of local authorities are escalating development charges to the point where they are funding other council activities which should be funded by introducing substantial taxes on home ownership. I mentioned the case of land which was imprudently rezoned last year in Blessington town. Wicklow County Council subsequently gave planning permission for an estate on that land but placed a development cost of £6,700 on each house being built. This charge is against the future development costs of the town. It is a substantial level of taxation. If the Minister for Finance had announced in his December budget that he was going to place a tax of £6,000 — £7,000 on every new house being built he would not have lasted the day. If he had not been dealt with by the Opposition he would have been lynched by his own side.
A ludicrous situation has developed in recent weeks in that Wicklow County Council has given three individuals in Greystones town individual planning permission to build in gardens of existing houses. However, the council added development charges of £6,700 where there was no justifiable argument for such large development costs. This makes it impossible for young couples to house themselves, forcing them on to local authority housing lists which are already problematic. This must be examined.
It is also ludicrous that a huge development will take place in Greystones where everyone knows that there are no facilities. The roads cannot accommodate the additional population. The council is resolving this problem by placing development charges of approximately £7,000 on each house. This is with a view to creating a fund to build roads. This is the antithesis of good planning. We need to put in place plans for the infrastructure before people are allowed in. Putting in the population in the hope that one might get the money for the infrastructure in the long term is not the way forward.
This is welcome legislation. The Minister is making prudent provision to improve matters in An Bord Pleanála. However, there is a disquieting abundance of evidence that the planning system is in chaos. It is very fine to stand in the House and describe the problems. However, it is incumbent upon us to prescribe some remedies. For example, on the issue of repeated rogue development, there is an unanswerable case for looking at the planning law to find a way of disbarring people who have continually failed to meet their responsibilities, whether in the guise of corporate structures or as individuals. I wish to see the planning laws punishing the rogues. The vast majority of builders I have dealt with are decent people who try to do their best. However,  the industry is being brought into disrepute by a handful of rogues who, because they can undercut and move from place to place, are making big profits and passing on the costs of their behaviour to young couples, communities, councils who cannot afford it, and ultimately the national taxpayer. The second measure I would like to see at an early stage is an investigation into the impact on planning staff, particularly in the areas which are growing most rapidly. It is important to keep a tight rein on the growth of public service numbers, but something must be done to alleviate the problems of councils, such as Wicklow County Council and Bray Urban District Council, where there is a burgeoning of pressure.
Special funding arrangements will have to be put in place to create the necessary infrastructure to support present as well as additional future populations in the greater Dublin area and in other urban areas. The population of towns such as Greystones doubled and trebled in size in the 1970s and 1980s but there was no investment in roads. It is extraordinary that the population of Greystones grew from under 4,000 in 1971 to approximately 11,000 at present while in the same period Wicklow County Council had funds to build only 12 feet of roadway. The remainder was either done by private developers or was left to fall into chaos.
The Minister recently announced the welcome addition of £15 million to provide support for councils which wish to bring onstream land otherwise incapable of development. I would like to see an extension of that fund and its tailoring for areas where there are additional pressures. This does not only concern the east coast. The Minister of State will be aware of the situation in the vicinity of Galway where there has been a welcome expansion of good quality development.
The problems I have outlined are not unique to County Wicklow, but are to be found in every constituency and planning area in the country. The problems need to be addressed as soon as possible because we will all suffer if the public lose further confidence in the planning process. The signs of erosion are already present and this and other measures which the Minister will hopefully bring forward will address the problem.
Mr. Deasy Mr. Deasy
Mr. Deasy: I was interested to read in the Minister's speech that Ireland is unique in having a planning appeals board. I would have thought such a structure was common in most countries.
Mr. Molloy Mr. Molloy
Mr. Molloy: The third party element of it is unique.
Mr. Deasy Mr. Deasy
Mr. Deasy: We are all concerned about the delays in making a decision on appeals and I am sure everybody in the House welcomes the legislation as it attempts to speed up the process by appointing more members to the board. I hope the appointment of additional members will lead to the employment of additional staff because a  delay of four months can be most frustrating for many people.
It would be interesting to know if An Bord Pleanála makes any attempt to discern between genuine objectors — those who feel they have a grievance — and cranks who make appeals for ulterior motives. A number of crank appeals are made and it would be a much speedier process if that distinction could be made.
Only one in ten appeals are successful. I always try to dissuade constituents who have been refused planning permission and who are talking about appealing a decision to An Bord Pleanála from doing so. I advise them to try to resolve the matter with the local authority as the chances of being successful in appealing to An Bord Pleanála are one in ten. It is better to meet with the planner and work out an accommodation. Many people would not appeal to the board if they were aware that only one in ten appeals are successful.
It is time the planning process was overhauled and that we started again from scratch. Planning permission has been necessary from the mid-1960s; I think the planning Act dates to 1964 or 1965 but it did not come into effect until 1967 and it should now be overhauled. The planning system has been circumvented and abused. I am in favour of devolving more power to local authorities, but I have grave reservations about the law when I seen certain local authorities making regular use of section 4 to bulldoze through planning applications which the planners do not think are desirable. It is time to draw up new legislation and to get rid of section 4 if it is impinging on proper planning and development.
The legislation dealing with the prevention of continuous building to the detriment of green spaces is flawed. Green belts and the desirable green areas can be eliminated on a systematic basis through rezoning. This is terribly wrong and I do not know why Governments and Ministers over the past 30 years have allowed this to happen. There was a better planning system in operation under British rule when green spaces were created; this is very evident in our larger cities. In Dublin we have the magnificent St. Stephen's Green and Merrion Park. Outside the city centre we have Herbert Park in Ballsbridge and on the north side there is a fine park in Fairview and St. Anne's Park. The Phoenix Park is the largest. Dublin Corporation is reasonably well able to cater for people who need recreation, sporting and leisure facilities.
Much of the crime in the country is related to the non-existence of recreational facilities and amenities. This can be seen in parts of the inner city. I am not here to criticise the Taoiseach, but a group of people from the Summerhill area, who live in the shadow of Croke Park and have no facilities whatsoever, protested at the granting of £20 million in the budget to the GAA.
Mr. Broughan Mr. Broughan
Mr. Broughan: The Taoiseach has only represented the area for 20 or 25 years.
Mr. Deasy Mr. Deasy
 Mr. Deasy: Anyone who passes through the area must agree that the residents have a pertinent case. There is much crime and deprivation in that general area, the roots of which may be found in the lack of amenities and facilities. I have made this point here before but I am beginning to think I am talking to the wall.
I often wonder what the Green Party stands for on the issues of planning, conservation of open spaces and provision of amenities and facilities. For every pound provided by the Government for local authority housing and for every pound spent by private developers, a matching pound should be spent on amenities and recreational facilities. I would like that concept to be taken on board by the Minister and the Government. The current planning system is not merely crazy, it is wrong.
Local authorities in provincial towns are the biggest offenders. They start building in the centre of a town and build solidly out to its outskirts. I see that happening in my own town of Dungarvan and I am sure the situation there is typical of what is happening throughout the country. This practice is allowed because nobody gives a damn. The way in which the money is allocated by the Department of the Environment and Local Government and the manner in which officials are under its whip results in local authorities building, building and building.
There should be restrictions on where building can or cannot take place. At the moment we are building solidly and there are no open spaces available. However, if I, or some other Member raises this issue, we are told the GAA, rugby club or soccer club have a field in a particular area. People will even point to the grounds of a local convent as being a green area. However, all of those places are private property.
Local authorities might build 116 or 250 houses in an area. In Ballybeg, in Waterford city, 1,000 houses have been built and in Knocknaheeny in Cork 2,000 houses have probably been built. In Neilstown or Ronanstown in Tallaght, up to ten thousand houses have probably been built. However, facilities were not provided in all of the massive estates which were built in the 1970s and 1980s.
People wonder why we have a culture of joyriders, drugs and drink but the reasons are obvious. Concrete jungles are being built and no attempt has been made by successive Governments to enable development in an organised and civilised manner. People will point out that there are 50 or 100 acres of green land in Ballybeg, Neilstown, Ronanstown or wherever but that land is populated by stray horses and has not been developed for recreational or amenity purposes.
There is an incredible lack of thought or care in planning. To a major extent, that lack of compassionate, reasonable planning is responsible for the current crime crisis. I urge the Minister and the Government to respond to this problem. I would like the Green Party to tell us what it stands for and I would like environmentalists to  inform us of their concerns. Nobody seems to be concerned about the provision of proper planning. It is appalling that there is no organised system for the provision of green spaces. The planning laws should be revamped, public green spaces mapped out and the law should be drafted to make it impossible for green spaces to be rezoned for building purposes. They should be used solely for amenities and recreation.
Section 4 should be abolished if it is seen to impede the orderly development of our society. I hope the planning tribunal, examining alleged abuses of the planning system, will find out the truth. If what we hear on the grapevine about corruption in this area is true, I hope that is proven and there will not be another massive cover up. I am sure the tribunal will do its best and I hope if corruption exists, it will find hard evidence to prove it.
For the past 30 years, planning laws have not been developed in an orderly way. Prior to that, planning laws did not exist and it was possible to erect any sort of a building. The planning laws instituted in the mid 1960s have not worked. They have defeated the purpose for which they were intended.
Solid building on every available inch or square yard of green space must stop. A green belt should remain a green belt. If, when rezoning occurs, people must be compensated with millions of pounds if their land cannot be built upon, we must change the law to prevent that happening. The present planning laws are incapable of delivering the orderly development of land.
I will refer to the erection of masts throughout the country. Being a physics graduate I have some knowledge about radiation although I am not an expert in the field. The level of objection to the erection of masts has got out of control and the response of the Department of the Environment and Local Government and of local authorities has not been sufficient. The Minister should set up an expert group to advise on the dangers or otherwise of radiation from the various masts being constructed?
Mr. Molloy Mr. Molloy
Mr. Molloy: That has been done.
Mr. Deasy Mr. Deasy
Mr. Deasy: I am not taking issue with the Minister on this, I merely want to be reasonable in my approach. The people objecting most are “head-the-balls”. In my experience most of these masts are totally innocuous and pose no danger whatsoever to health but I would like an expert group to confirm that. One is exposed to considerably greater levels of radiation by sitting in front of a television for a half an hour than if one lives adjacent to an aerial on the top of a mountain or on the top of a roof. However, I do not believe aerials should be erected on the top of mountains.
Mr. Broughan Mr. Broughan
Mr. Broughan: There is a good deal of radiation in here.
Mr. Deasy Mr. Deasy
 Mr. Deasy: An expert group should be set up to advise people on the matter. Today's newspapers carry reports of gardaí and their families objecting to the erection of masts in their back gardens and so on.
Virtually all aerials are harmless. Conversely, I would be concerned if a high tension power line passed by my house. We are all aware of the effects of electro-magnetic fields generated by high tension cables. They are a cause of concern, but masts are not a health problem. The health authorities do not consider them a problem, but the public continue to protest about the matter. I believe some are motivated by people with ulterior motives. The masts may compete with a deflector system and those concerned want a monopoly on the money from television rights. There are all sorts of dirty tricks in this field. The Minister for the Environment must set up a group that will inform people that radiation from masts is harmless. That needs to be said strongly, loudly and more often. The public is fair minded. A small minority should not be allowed dictate to the majority. That is what is happening in this case. Pressure groups are playing hell with people and stopping desirable developments.
I wish the Minister good luck. I hope the enlarged board is accompanied by more staff and that the system works more effectively.
Mr. McGuinness Mr. McGuinness
Mr. McGuinness: I welcome the Bill. It is an attempt to remove the backlog of appeals with An Bord Pleanála. It is a short-term solution. The Bill and this debate present an opportunity to raise broad issues regarding An Bord Pleanála's role and the entire planning process. There is an immediate need to examine the system which caused the backlog. From a management point of view, there is no point in us examining the current position if we do not examine how the backlog occurred. If the cause of the problem is not examined, it may escalate. We owe it to the people we represent and to the planning system to carry out an examination of the planning sections of each local authority.
Central to this issue, and something which would greatly increase the efficiency of the planning process, is the revitalisation and empowerment of local government, coupled with a root and branch review of its structures to ensure it is more cost effective, transparent and efficient. The centralist policy which has been eroding the power of local government for generations — a legacy bequeathed to us by our former masters — was never democratic and has no place in today's world. In taking powers from towns and cities it stole their pride and damaged the democratic process. In this regard, I have watched with interest the direction being taken by the UK Government which is proposing to install elected mayors and executive cabinets in all major towns and cities because it regards the current decision-making process as cumbersome with obscure lines of accountability.
 “Cumbersome” and “obscure” are adjectives that can be easily applied to our planning regulations. It frequently becomes distant and uninformed when An Bord Pleanála is involved. The planning procedure from local authority level upwards should be proactive and contain a central unit within the local authority structure to deal with all pre-planning queries. The pre-planning query function should be separate from the section that deals with formal applications. This would ensure greater scrutiny and understanding of the application and, from the developer's point of view, would ensure a greater understanding of the area concerned and how it should be developed. To speed up the process, the section dealing with the application could be informed it has come through that process and, thus, part of the scrutiny would have been dealt with. Such a measure would reduce significantly the number of refusals which end up with An Bord Pleanála. This proactive approach, coupled with the strategic management initiative, would result in a dramatic improvement in each county.
Additional staff with varied qualifications are required in every local authority area. I thought the local authority area with which I am familiar was unique in terms of the problems it is experiencing, but that is not the case. Having listened to other speakers, it appears this is a countrywide problem. Specific action would result in a more efficient system. As evident from the previous speaker's contribution, the problems in each county are basically the same. A pre-planning query system is necessary. In many cases there are desperate requests for further information at the last minute, thus further delaying the processing of applications and frustrating those who submit them. Some of the applications are submitted by young couples wanting to build houses while others are submitted by people who would create employment in the areas concerned. Even people who submit applications for developments in industrial estates are being frustrated. They cannot understand why it takes so long to process a normal standard application for an area zoned for industrial use.
Requests by local authorities to applicants, through a public representative or directly from an official, for further time to consider applications is a clear indication that the entire system is under enormous pressure. Local authorities are unable to deal with the huge number of applications before them arising from our improved economic conditions. We cannot ignore this. This legislation highlights the need to deal with the unsatisfactory position that prevails in almost every local authority area.
Other issues are relevant to the planning sections of local authorities, for example, the provision of green areas. Most developers will meet the criteria laid down by setting aside a percentage of the land as a green area but this generally turns out to be a cosmetic exercise and the area cannot be used by the young families growing up  in the area. We must ensure that sufficient green space is made available.
If permission is granted for large housing developments, which are taking place in many areas, there should be a mechanism whereby the local authority can provide the infrastructural needs as the area is being developed and not afterwards. It is only by making such a provision and insisting that every local authority carries out proper planning in this regard that we will achieve a reduction in social problems in the growing areas around our cities.
Masts and ESB pylons were referred to by other speakers but I will not go into the related health issues. However, too many of these masts are being imposed on communities. In County Kilkenny such masts take from the beauty and the tourism potential of the area. They are a blight on the countryside and if we wish to promote the tourism potential of County Kilkenny we must do something about these masts. This refers not just to the telecommunications masts of the Garda or telephone companies, but also to the ESB pylons. We must ensure that the lines from pylons, which are dangerous to health, are put underground and if necessary we must legislate to achieve this.
One of the hallmarks of the tiger economy has been the false fronted buildings which are appearing around the country. The fronts of heritage buildings are propped up and the remainder are torn down. In doing so the souls of the buildings are destroyed. Indeed, the souls of many towns and cities are destroyed when these buildings are torn down, roads are realigned and corners are cut.
I wish to be associated with the tributes paid to the late Jim Gibbons. He was a fine politician and gentleman. It was Jim Gibbons and others of his ilk who led the crusade in Kilkenny to ensure the soul of our city and county was kept intact. People like him saved the city's heritage, as exemplified by Kilkenny Castle.
However, 50 years after having saved the castle and established Kilkenny as a medieval city and a tourist attraction, An Bord Pleanála has taken a decision which will transform the centre of Kilkenny city driven by tax designation. I do not say the tax designation policy is wrong and I am glad to see that it has been changed to take account of the social needs of an area. However, in this case the local authority, driven and supported by local people, objected to the development only to be overruled by An Bord Pleanála. What business has An Bord Pleanála involving itself in overseeing the development of such a sensitive city? How can towns and cities look after themselves and preserve their heritage which involve the consideration of issues which it would be impossible for An Bord Pleanála to include in its deliberations? How can An Bord Pleanála take account of the love and affection for or the subliminal importance of a particular building and the understanding local people may have for it? I do not believe it can. These are  important issues which inform the decisions of local people, yet they cannot be taken on board by An Bord Pleanála in its deliberations because it is so remote from the efforts of local authorities and local people. I suggest that some of An Bord Pleanála's decisions are based on inadequate information and understanding.
I am concerned at the level of care and attention being given to our ancient and historic buildings. I do not believe that the Office of Public Works, the semi-State and voluntary bodies have sufficient time, money or qualified staff to deal with the problems which are growing daily and as a result the planning laws are regularly ignored or avoided. Historic buildings which are the subject of planning applications suddenly develop terminal diseases, JCBs and other heavy machinery take on lives of their own and, unbidden and driverless, destroy a site which is valuable in heritage terms. Elements of our heritage disappear without trace and without notice every week as a result of the actions of people who seem driven by profit.
Resources must be set aside to ensure that local authorities can provide the extra staff to police the conditions attached to the planning permissions granted. If we do not take this action and if we allow the system to continue as it is we will destroy our towns and cities and the planning system itself because, without policing, there is virtually no need to add conditions to a permission. The issues of the density of housing and city apartments, the provision of green spaces and infrastructure must be examined urgently. The Minister should undertake a complete review of the planning process to ensure transparency and to ensure it responds to the cases I have outlined. I support the Bill but I encourage further legislation.
Mr. Broughan Mr. Broughan
Mr. Broughan: It is laughable to hear a contribution from a Fianna Fáil Member calling on the Government to recognise the plans of the British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, to have mayors for London and other cities. Over the last 60 or 70 years Fianna Fáil has sought to bring about weak local government. Fianna Fáil centralised power and prevented local democracy from emerging. By local democracy I mean a situation in which power rests with locally elected representatives and not with bureaucrats or appointees. The Deputy needs to take that case to his party.
Mr. McGuinness Mr. McGuinness
Mr. McGuinness: The Deputy's party was also in Government.
Mr. Broughan Mr. Broughan
Mr. Broughan: My party should have taken a stronger line on this during the short periods it was in Government. In Government I would try to develop real powers for local authorities. The reason for the focus on the Dublin region is because people feared the capital city would have strong local government.
Senator Seán Ryan of Fingal introduced a Planning and Development Bill before  Christmas. It proposed simple reform of the planning procedures, one proposal being to refuse new planning permission to a rogue builder who left an estate in a mess having failed to honour the conditions of the planning permission granted by the local authority or An Bord Pleanála. However, despite requests for similar reforms by Government Deputies, the Government rejected the Bill which would have created a mechanism to chase rogue builders.
My party was briefly in power when the issue of masts arose. Planning procedures for masts were suspended when Eircell and Telecom Éireann developed our first major microwave mast system. There are genuine fears about microwave radiation. For example, in what is perhaps an extreme case, a constituent has papered the interior of his house with aluminium foil because he is so fearful of its effects. I understand the concerns expressed today. The Government should address them and should leave matters to the planning system.
I welcome the Bill and the Minister's efforts to ease the enormous workload which An Bord Pleanála now faces. I represent two local authorities in this House — Fingal County Council and Dublin City Council. Both have received a huge number of applications, including applications for major industrial developments, shopping centres, etc. In addition, there is growing civil awareness and greater interest in how local areas will be shaped. The net result is that significant backlogs are developing although An Bord Pleanála continues to process applications in a relatively fast and efficient way. The requirement of extra staffing and resources has never been more necessary. I am, therefore, happy to support the Bill.
I agree with the view of my colleague and spokesperson on the Environment, Deputy Howlin, that it is time we looked at regional plans and considered the possibility of a national plan. The regional authority system has been established. However, the regional authority for the four Dublin counties is basically an interesting talking shop but with very few powers to do anything about developments. Effectively, the Dublin City Manager and his staff lead the four Dublin counties and try to promote development of major planning projects such as waste management, new road structures, etc.
It could be argued that the surrounding counties, of Meath, Wicklow and Kildare, which with Dublin constitutes an area with a population of approximately 1.5 to 1.6 million, need a major plan. In Dublin Corporation and in Fingal County Council we are engaged in reviewing our development plans. Despite this, there has been almost no direct consultation between the two local authorities regarding what may be described as the boundary areas. I represent such an area in Dublin North-East. Some of the area is partly in Dublin City Council, and some is covered by Dublin Corporation and Fingal County Council.  Recently, colleagues in Fingal County Council have been preparing to make major decisions about industrial and other developments in Clonshaugh over which Dublin City Council has virtually no power. A stronger regional approach is required and I urge the Minister to seriously consider convening a conference on planning and perhaps producing a report on planning in the Dublin region and surrounding counties. It requires a concerted and cohesive approach which has not been taken in the past.
Although a planning system in Dublin did not exist prior to 1963, developments then delivered more satisfying results. Some of the major problems in the Dublin area are the result of appalling planning decisions in the 1970s and 1980s, especially in the area of public sector housing. It was not simply the lack of open spaces or recreational facilities, the street and house designs on the northside and westside estates were a recipe for disaster. The architects and planners who designed them took a condescending approach to the people who were to live in them. For example, the design of space was often indefensible and there were often many end houses, especially on the westside and parts of the northside. The solutions of earlier decades in areas such as Coolock and Ballyfermot, which allowed for normal streets and normal space around houses, was the best approach. I hope the £200 million reconstruction of Ballymun will revert to the adoption of a basic middle 20th-century villa approach because it delivered better local environments than those produced in the 1970s and 1980s, the results of which were appalling and which have required the expenditure of millions of pounds in attempted reconstruction.
In recent years our planners have become obsessed with linear streetscapes and the use of pastiche buildings and facades in an effort to give a long linear look to Dublin. By contrast, in the twin city of Dublin City Council in America, San Jose, a new city centre has been constructed over the past ten to 15 years led by an Irish-American mayor. A different approach has been adopted involving the construction of free standing and elegant buildings designed in the past couple of decades and which inform the city centre.
We should take a more mature approach to this issue. Recently, some architects have become almost fearful of commentators in the heritage and conservation areas. For example, they have been fearful of designing buildings relatively higher than three stories and of not adopting a Georgian pastiche mode. They should be encouraged to be more adventurous in Dublin city.
Since 1991, indeed perhaps since the celebrations of the Dublin millennium in 1988, there have been major improvements in the development of the area. Will the Minister consider a conference on the Dublin region? It could lay down a basic framework for planning in the capital in the 21st century.
The problems regarding various development plans and rezoning which have haunted the Dublin  region and which will now be aired in an open forum in the Flood tribunal have been referred to. I hope a number of disquieting issues will be addressed at the tribunal. It is astonishing that local councillors, although they are not the planning authority and do not have the final say on approving planning matters, have the final say in respect of variations. Attention should be given to this matter in the event of a review of the planning process.
Dáil Éireann 486 Private Members' Business. Local Government (Planning and Development) Bill, 1997: Second Stage (Resumed).