Dáil Éireann - Volume 536 - 16 May, 2001

Adjournment Debate. - Compulsory Purchase Orders.

Mr. McGuinness: I am not against development but I welcome the construction of a national road network which is sensible and sensitive to those it affects. The network should deliver [699] greater potential for national economic development. However, when purchasing land by compulsory purchase order for this we must be prepared to compensate farmers and landowners based on the market value relative to the price of development land. This land is being used for the greater good and Government policy should be biased towards those from whom we are taking the land. I therefore ask that the price of compulsory purchase orders be related to market value. Also, capital gains tax should be abolished in such cases or a system introduced to make this process fairer for all concerned.

The compulsory purchase order mechanism must be overhauled and made more user-friendly, with all costs being borne by the State through the local authority or the NRA. In this regard, the ICMSA statement and document, together with the separate IFA document, should be considered in a special forum in order to reach agreement between the Government and the farming organisations on this issue. I ask the Minister, as part of that learning process, to conduct a ministerial inquiry into the Norris case in Kilkenny. A man was forced to fight against the local county council and the NRA for his rights and those of his family. There is a need to establish the real facts in this case, to ensure that the man involved is adequately compensated and that a new home is provided for his family. It was an act of lunacy to build a wall within arm's length of his home and it is grossly unjust that his reasonable request to protect his livelihood and quality of life has not been granted. His case has been taken up by the Ombudsman in a special way. I understand the county council's report contains inaccuracies and misinformation. I have asked locally for this to be corrected and for the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to take a special interest in this case as there is a lot be learned. The case could be used as a model to develop better understanding at national level.

I cannot understand why this Parliament keeps the NRA at arm's length as it is a body that spends vast sums of money. I believe Members should be allowed to scrutinise the process of compulsory purchase and that processes of this nature should be generally subject to parliamentary scrutiny. The bypass of Johnstown and Urlingford, along the N9 across north Kilkenny, is a source of deep concern to local communities in counties Carlow and Kilkenny. Before we enter the process of compulsory purchase for the construction of the road, I ask that a protocol be put in place to ensure that communities, landowners and farmers in these areas can avail of a modern mechanism to reach a reasonable price. Accommodation should be reached in terms of what the local community might lose as a result of the construction of this road.

The compulsory order system should include a method of mediation prior to the purchase. Oral hearings, with no costs to farmers or land owners should be held. A modern compulsory purchase [700] order system acknowledging bias towards the rights of farm and land owners should be put in place as a matter of urgency. The standard legal charges should also be examined to reduce the cost to the State and others of employing legal aid or a professional to prove the case of the land owner. There should be an ombudsman for compulsory purchase orders so that if systems fail there is at least another safeguarding mechanism to which farmers and land owners can appeal.

I have already mentioned the abolition of capital gains tax, which would be another method of compensating those involved. It should be remembered that the construction of roads under the National Development Plan will benefit not only local and regional economies but the national economy too. The farmers and land owners in question do not put their land up for sale and they do not want to go out of business or to give up their land. Consequently, I believe we should accommodate a new compulsory purchase order system forthwith before any more construction is undertaken on the N9.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. D. Wallace): I thank Deputy McGuinness for raising this matter this evening and for giving me an opportunity to respond.

The legislative code governing the compulsory purchase of land by local authorities covers all such acquisitions relating to any of the authorities' powers and duties including road construction. The procedures are designed to ensure a full and independent assessment of the local authorities' proposal and the views of the affected land owners. Local authorities also acquire land by agreement, but if it cannot be reached with land owners or if there are complications in relation to title for large schemes involving a number of land owners, acquisition usually occurs by compulsory purchase order.

The scale of the national development plan both in terms of the number and size of infrastructural projects, particularly road construction, has brought the compulsory purchase process to greater public attention. The large number of schemes designed to address national infrastructural deficits means many people are affected. Modern high class roads with interchanges require a large take of land. The compulsory purchase system is designed to secure fair compensation for land owners. The Government is committed to ensuring the system operates efficiently and that decisions are made in a timely manner. The new procedures introduced in the Planning and Development Act, 2000, where the powers of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government were transferred to An Bórd Pleanála will help in this regard.

It is a basic principle that land owners must get fair compensation and that it should be paid as quickly as possible. Compensation is composed of a number of elements, but the fundamental point to be borne in mind is that land owners get the [701] market value of the land. There is also provision for compensation for disturbance, severance and injurious affection which, in certain circumstances, would exceed the land value element of the total compensation package. In addition, accommodation works such as underpasses are catered for. If a dispute arises about compensation, the matter can be referred to an independent arbitrator for decision.

The IFA has published proposals for reform of the arrangements for compulsory acquisition of land. In the context of the commitment in the PPF to the fair and efficient implementation of compulsory purchase orders, the proposals have been discussed by the IFA and the Department of the Environment and Local Government and other relevant agencies, including the National Roads Authority. As these discussions are ongoing the Deputy will appreciate it would be inappropriate to elaborate at this stage.

The Government is committed to a fair and equitable compulsory purchase process. The Government also considers that value for money should be obtained and is determined that the national development plan be delivered on time and cost effectively so we can enjoy sustained economic growth and more balanced regional development. I will bring the points raised by Deputy McGuinness to the attention of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government.