Seanad Statements on Marine Spatial Planning – 12 June 2018 – Opening Statement by Minister Damien English

Marine

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Cathaoirleach,

I am very pleased to be here today to provide an update on Marine Spatial Planning or MSP on behalf of the Government and my Department, following on from Senator O’Sullivan’s Motion last month on marine environment matters.

All contributors to that debate appeared to agree that as an Island nation, our marine environment is a national asset that gives us many commercial and non-commercial benefits in terms, for example, of biodiversity, seafood, tourism, recreation, renewable energy, cultural heritage, and shipping. People are passionate about our seas and the future sustainable use, enjoyment and development of our marine area affects many people.

Managing our ocean wealth requires an overarching national marine ‘spatial’ plan to a structure to help realise the full benefit of our ocean wealth and assist with managing our resources effectively and sustainably.

The development of an overarching national MSP was identified as a Government policy objective in Ireland’s Integrated Marine Plan, Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth (HOOW). We identified that the organisation, regulation and protection of marine-based activity in Irish waters was being carried out on a sectoral and demand-driven basis, without a strategic framework in which sectoral policy objectives could be envisioned, planned and delivered over the long term.

Marine Spatial Planning is also underpinned by EU legislation. The 2014 MSP Directive established an EU-wide framework for MSP. The directive established a framework for MSP, and defined it as “a process by which the relevant Member State’s authorities analyse and organise human activities in marine areas to achieve ecological, economic and social objectives”. The Directive details the main goals and minimum requirements for Member States as:

  • Balanced and sustainable territorial development of marine waters and coastal zones; optimised development of maritime activities and business climate;
  • Better adaptation to risks; and resource-efficient and integrated coastal and maritime development.
  • Lower transaction costs for maritime businesses and improved national competitiveness; improved certainty and predictability for private investments;
  • Improved certainty in obtaining financing for investments in the maritime area; improved use of sea space and the best possible coexistence of uses in coastal zones and marine waters;
  • Improved attractiveness of coastal regions as places to live and invest; reduced co-ordination costs for public authorities;
  • Greater development of innovation and research; and enhanced and integrated data and information.

We transposed the Directive through the European Union (Framework for Maritime Spatial Planning) Regulations 2016, signed into law on 29th June 2016. The regulations identify the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government as the competent authority for MSP, reflecting my Department’s track record and expertise in relation to forward planning generally.

Senators will be aware from our earlier discussions that I am proposing amendments to the Planning and Development Bill 2016 to replace the existing regulations with a new primary legislative basis for MSP. I want to give MSP greater prominence, and introduce new arrangements for the plan making process including governance, public participation, review and Oireachtas involvement, to ensure that the processes for making Ireland’s two long term forward spatial plans, one marine, the other terrestrial, are consistent and fully aligned

Working within the existing framework, Minister Murphy and I launched Towards a Marine Spatial Plan for Ireland, a roadmap for the development of Ireland’s first marine spatial plan in December 2017.

In the roadmap document we have clearly set out the principles of engagement for this process. We believe that marine spatial plans should be strategic, concise and informed by effective public and stakeholder participation to ensure buy-in with regard to implementation. Therefore, a core objective of the MSP process will be to ensure that, as well as the wider public, all relevant stakeholders are consulted and encouraged to contribute to the process of plan preparation.

The importance of involving all stakeholders in the marine planning and marine sectoral issues was raised repeatedly during our discussion last month and I am deeply committed to it. The participation processes for MSP are being designed, tailored and structured to ensure meaningful, informed and timely engagement with the plan-making process.

We are committed to:

  • Involving people early on in the decision-making process and in developing specific policy within the framework provided by HOOW;
  • Engaging with interested people and organisations at the appropriate time using tailored and effective engagement methods, allowing sufficient time for meaningful consultation;
  • Being adaptable, recognising that some consultation methods work better for some people and some issues and that a one size fits all approach will not work;
  • Respecting the diversity of people and their lifestyles and giving people a fair chance to have their voice heard regardless of gender, age, race, abilities, sexual orientation, circumstances or wherever they live;
  • Being clear in the purpose of any engagement and how the public may contribute and letting people know how their views have been taken into account within agreed timescales;
  • Making documents publicly available on the Department’s website;
  • Communicating clearly with people, using plain English and avoiding jargon.

In line with these objectives a three-pronged engagement strategy is now underway and I want to spend some time outlining those.

Firstly, we have established an Interdepartmental Group to lead and oversee the development of the MSP. The group is chaired by my Department and is made up of senior representatives from the Marine Institute, local government and Government Departments whose policies and functions are relevant to the plan.

Secondly I have been tasked with chairing an Advisory Group to facilitate participation in the MSP process by all relevant stakeholders from the economic, environmental and social pillars. The purpose of the Advisory Group is to harness the potential and capacity of a broad range of sectors including representation from the public sector, business, environmental, social and knowledge-based sectors to guide strategic thinking and decision-making in the preparation of marine spatial plans. We meet for the second time tomorrow and the outputs of the group will also inform the work of the Interdepartmental MSP Group and provide updates, reports or recommendations as required.

The third strand is stakeholder engagement – this is a parallel process with a strong focus on awareness-raising among coastal communities, smaller unaligned stakeholders, individual members of larger representative bodies.

This strand is critically important in my view.

Staff from the MSP team in my Department have been engaged in a series of public engagements throughout the country over the past few months and this will continue. These have ranged from conference presentations and meetings with sectoral groups such as the Regional Inshore Fisheries Forums – whose members are representative of the ‘inshore sector’ fishermen using boats of less than 12m in overall length – to smaller public meetings in coastal communities to help the public understand how they can feed into the plan by getting involved in the consultation processes. The latter have been advertised via local and regional groups, local newspapers, by direct contact with stakeholder groups and using social media, in particular Twitter. They are, by design, informal, low key and are taking place at the earliest possible stage before any ink has been committed to paper in a draft plan. They are intended purely to help explain the concept and processes around MSP and to give people time and space to think about how they want to shape the plan during the formal consultation and participation phases. Larger, more regionally focused events will take place in the Autumn of this year and into early 2018.

The first opportunity for formal input will arise in the autumn following the publication of our Baseline Report. This document will outline the current situation in our seas – the as-is situation in terms of capturing the nature and locations of existing activities, developments and marine uses. The Baseline Report will also pose a series of questions to stakeholders to help frame their submissions.

It will be published in September 2018 kick-starting a two-month consultation period. Following this the draft MSP (including Environmental Assessments) is intended to be completed by Q2 of 2019 and will be followed by a three-month public consultation.

In terms of the formal consultation on the draft marine plan, once the consultation period has closed, the responses will be analysed and a summary report will be produced detailing any comments made and published on our website. This report will also set out any changes made to the plans, any changes that weren’t made and the reasons why. Everyone who submitted a response will be notified when it is published. The final plan will be in place by mid-2020, just 30 months on from the launch of our Roadmap document.

Once the plan is in place, it will be a key strategic spatial framework encompassing all plans and sectoral policies for the marine area.

It will provide a coherent framework in which those sectoral policies and objectives can be realised.

It will be the key decision making tool for regulatory authorities and policy makers into the future in a number of ways including, decisions on individual consent applications which will have to be in line with the provisions of the plan in the same way that terrestrial plans form part of the decision making tool-kit in the on-land planning process.

Finally, Cathaoirleach, Ireland’s National Marine Planning Framework will, just as the National Planning Framework does for land-based sectors, close the loop by providing a key input to the development of future sectoral marine policies.

ENDS

 

Seanad Housing Statement Wednesday 31st January 2018

Action Plan for Housing

Seanad Housing Statement Wednesday 31st January 2018

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Introduction

A Chathaoirleach, I’d like to thank you and the members of the Seanad for the opportunity to update the House on the Government’s progress in responding to the housing challenges and highlight the actions we have taken and are taking to increase the social housing stock, meet the needs of those on the waiting lists and those at risk of becoming homeless, as well as drive the increased supply of new housing across all tenure and maximise our existing housing stock to meet current and future needs.

I want in the first instance to acknowledge the delivery of almost 26,000 social housing supports, by local authorities and approved housing bodies and other housing stakeholders, to those who needed support and help in 2017. We have over-achieved most of our targets, but need to maintain and build on this progress in 2018 and beyond.

I also want to acknowledge the hard work across the country in terms tackling homelessness. It was encouraging to see the reduction in homeless numbers in December. We must, however, do more and especially advance additional preventative measures.

2017 outcomes

I’d like to briefly highlight some key outcomes from the range of actions that we have taken under Rebuilding Ireland:

  • 25,892 is the number of new households that had their housing need met in 2017. To put it another way, 100 new households had their social housing need met each working day of the week last year.
  • The Government exceeded its overall target for new social housing supports last year by 23%. That’s more than 4,800 additional tenancies.
  • Comparing with 2016, last year we increased our social housing supports by 36% or 6,847 more households supported.
  • Over 7,000 new homes were brought into the active social housing stock through build, acquisitions, voids and leasing programmes in 2017. This is a 40% increase (almost 2,000 new homes) on what was planned for the year; and it’s a 24% increase over what was achieved in 2016.
  • We came in slightly shy on our LA and AHB Build target for the year, but hitting 92% or our target – 2,245 newly built homes – is still a very positive result.  In fact, it’s over three times the level in 2016.
  • Furthermore, when we look at the combined delivery for both built and acquired social housing homes in 2017, the delivery was 4,511 new homes. That’s 22% (or 827 additional homes) more than had been originally planned.
  • We have changed the delivery mix for 2018 though, meaning we will be aiming to do more on the build side and less on the acquisitions side. But where buying makes sense, and where it’s not competing with young families or couples in the market, Local Authorities will continue to do it.
  • Construction figures from September of 2017 show 3,700 new social housing homes being built across 190 sites. These are being added to on a weekly basis.
  • Activity under Part V in 2017 reflects the overall increase in activity in the wider residential construction sector. The 388 homes delivered represent an almost six-fold increase on the number of new social homes delivered using this mechanism in 2016.
  • The target for HAP of 15,000 was exceeded by nearly 3,000, with 17,916 new HAP tenancies established in 2017.
  • Overall, some 4,000 exits from homelessness were achieved in 2017; this is 33% higher than in 2016.

Looking across the residential sector more generally:

  • In 2017, over 17,500 new homes commenced construction. This is an increase of 33% on 2016.
  • Last year, we saw over 9,500 registrations in larger developments, a level not seen since March 2009.
  • Over 19,000 homes were connected to the ESB network. This is an increase of more than 29% on 2016. This number includes newly built homes and those lying empty more than 2 years.
  • In the year to the end of September 2017, planning permissions were granted for more than 18,000 new homes.
  • As of 31st December, 2017, An Bord Pleanála had received 13 applications for large scale developments under the new fast track process which I signed in to law six months ago, including 1,900 houses, 1,750 apartments and over 4,000 student bed spaces, all due for decision in 2018.
  • And we’ve recently had the first positive decision under this scheme, which is welcome news.

Of course in recognising these positive developments in 2017, that’s not to say that our work is finished – not by a long shot.

And I’m not saying that all is now well with our housing system and that further interventions will not be needed to continue to repair our recently broken housing system. There is more that we need to do and both Minister Murphy and I know that.

It’s also important to note that Rebuilding Ireland is a 5-year plan, and we are only about 18 months into that plan.

These figures tell us that Rebuilding Ireland is working, that we are moving in the right direction – and we are moving there more quickly than had originally been planned.

People can have confidence in the work that we are doing to repair a recently broken housing system and to get tens of thousands of new homes built.

I’ll continue to drive that work, because it needs to be driven, and further interventions will need to be made, over the coming months and years, until Rebuilding Ireland is completed.

As a Government we are fixing our housing problems – as quickly as they can be fixed; and we are doing it in a sustainable way that won’t expose us to the risks and mistakes of the past.

There is more work to do, clearly. We have even greater ambitions for 2018, particularly on the build side.

Housing Summit with LA CEs

Minister Murphy and I hosted a valuable all-day Housing Summit with all 31 Local Authority Chief Executives last week, and discussed how each authority will implement the target number of social houses to be delivered in each Local Authority area out to 2021, with a particular focus on 2018 delivery and accelerating delivery across the country.

The targets for delivery in each Local Authority area are based on the Social Housing Needs Assessment and waiting lists, which were published earlier this month.

The targets also take account of two changes in the latter half of last year: the move towards a greater percentage of build by Local Authorities; and the additional €500m secured in last year’s budget for the capital plan.

Each Local Authority Chief Executive is now required to furnish a report by mid-February, confirming and setting out how their Local Authority will deliver on its social housing targets over the coming years. The targets and details of the delivery programme of each Local Authority will then be published on an ongoing basis, with this transparency helping to achieve greater accountability and drive delivery.

Better coordination & support

In terms of improving coordination and sharing of best practice across the local government sector, my Department’s Housing Delivery Unit is now up and running and working on the ground with Local Authorities to support and accelerate delivery.

We do not need a new agency or quango to accelerate the building of homes – but we do need better coordination of resources, and ensure that the right people with the right skills are in place within my Department and across local authorities to deliver on these ambitious targets.

New leasing Initiatives

Tackling vacancy continues to be a key focus and we have agreed a range of improvements to the existing Repair and Leasing Scheme, which has not been successful to date. There is also progress at local level in developing Vacant Homes Actions Plans and targeting vacancy hot-spot areas is advancing, especially in our cities and urban areas.

I also outlined at the LA Housing Summit details of an enhanced scheme for long-term leasing of private dwellings for social housing.  It aims to supply at least an additional 2,500 social housing homes by 2021.  The Scheme will allow the private sector to invest in providing housing which can then be leased to local authorities for up to 25 years for use as social housing. This leasing initiative was launched earlier today and I expect to see a lot of interest to deliver new homes quickly and cost-effectively.

Affordable Housing

There was an extensive discussion in the Dáil last night around the challenge of affordability and what actions are being progressed. As tens of thousands of new homes are built across the country over the coming years, we must ensure that they are affordable.

Given that our residential construction was on its knees following the crash, we first needed to remove costs and obstacles for builders to make projects viable, so they can deliver more affordable homes.

To achieve this, we have taken action by:

  • streamlining planning with a new fast-track process for large developments;
  • a dedicated €200m infrastructure fund;
  • new apartment guidelines to remove unnecessary costs; and,
  • Home Building Finance Ireland HBFI, a new State-funded bank to provide competitive loans for builders,

These actions and others have resuscitated the residential construction industry and facilitated the construction of thousands of new homes at more affordable prices. The Help-to-Buy Scheme is also great help to many in securing a deposit, with nearly 5,000 approvals so far.

Still, as a Government we are going to do more on housing affordability.

As Minister Murphy announced on 22 January and reiterated last night, initially we are doing this in three ways:

  • The Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan;
  • An Affordable Purchase Scheme, and
  • An Affordable Rental Scheme.
  • The measures are targeted at households with low to moderate incomes with a maximum of €50,000 for a single applicant or €75,000 for joint applicants.

Conclusion

We have made strong progress across a wide range of areas during 2017 – we are not there yet but the signs and data trends are very promising.

Rebuilding Ireland is working.

Social housing provision is ahead of target.

The Government is committed to delivering on the new affordable housing schemes.

Myself, Minister Murphy, our Department and our delivery partners will continue to do all in our power to drive on that delivery.