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Minister Phelan's Seanad Second Stage Speech on the Local Government Bill 2018

Published on Tuesday, 18 Dec 2018
John Paul Phelan TD

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The main purpose of this Local Government Bill is to alter the boundary between Cork City and Cork County Councils and to provide for the boundary alteration arrangements and consequential matters.  It also provides for the holding of plebiscites on the direct election of a mayor for Cork City, Limerick, Galway City and Galway County and Waterford and it provides for a single Chief Executive of the two Galway local authorities in anticipation of their merger. 

The revised boundary for the city of Cork was proposed by the Cork Implementation Oversight Group, following from the report of an Expert Advisory Group in April 2017, which recommended extending the Cork City area rather than merging the local authorities as proposed in the 2015 Cork Local Government Committee majority report.   The scale of this boundary alteration is very significant, involving the transfer of 147km² occupied by about 80,000 residents from within the administrative area of the County Council to the administrative area of the City Council.  The boundary change is being effected by way of primary legislation rather than the existing procedures for amending boundaries, which are the subject of amendment by this Bill, due to the scale of the alteration and the absence of clear evidence of agreement between the two local authorities in relation to all aspects of the transfer. 

The impact of the Bill will be that key urban parts of the immediate hinterland of Cork City will form part of the City Council area, allowing potential for further development within a new City Council boundary, while also incentivising higher density development and reducing the risk of sprawl.  The scale of the boundary alteration meant that it was not possible to include a map of the transferring area in a schedule to the Bill.  In order to be adequately legible, the hard copy of the map had to be produced in size A0 (which is 841 x 1189 mm) which is why it had to be deposited at my offices in the Custom House with a physical copy laid before the House.  The extended City area includes Ballincollig, Carrigrohane, Blarney, Glanmire, and Cork airport, but does not include areas such as Carrigtohill, Passage West, Monkstown, Ringaskiddy, Carrigaline, and the more rural parts of the City hinterland.  The population of the city will increase from 125,657 to 205,000 and the extended area will facilitate the Project Ireland 2040 National Planning Framework targeted rate of growth for Cork city of at least 105,000 more people by 2040. 

The main elements of the Bill involve provision for:

  • the revised boundary, which is indicated by hatching on the deposited map that was laid before this House on 25 July, which will take effect on a transfer day appointed by Ministerial order (and that will be fixed to coincide with the new councils coming into office after the local elections in the middle of next year);
  • statutory status, powers and functions of an Oversight Committee to oversee the boundary alteration implementation process, including provision for an Implementation Plan to be produced by the Committee, which the local authorities will be required to comply with in implementing the boundary alteration;
  • a range of specific arrangements to be made jointly between the local authorities in relation to the relevant area being transferred, including matters such as transfer of assets and liabilities, transitional provisions relating to local authority financial functions (which will largely remain with the County Council until 1 January 2020), the performance of functions in the transferred area, transfer of staff and related superannuation arrangements;
  • financial arrangements consisting of annual payments from the City Council to the County Council, a payment in respect of 2019 from the County Council to the City Council and periodic contributions from one authority to the other authority on foot of specific costs arising from the boundary change, to be agreed jointly by the local authorities in accordance with the Implementation Plan, with provision for recommendation by the Oversight Committee and direction by the Minister, if necessary;
  • the annual payment from the City Council to the County Council will be for a period of 10 years and will be based on the difference between income and expenditure in respect of the transferring area in the County Council’s annual financial statement for 2017, as increased each year to reflect changes in the value of money since then;
  • extension of the 10 year period by order of the Minister following a request to do so accompanied by a statement of reasons made by the County Council, referral of the request to the City Council and consideration of any representations that the City Council might make;
  • duties of the relevant local authorities and their employees relating to the implementation of the boundary alteration, including regular reports to the Oversight Committee;
  • Ministerial regulations and directions in relation to the boundary alteration;
  • consequential provisions arising from the boundary alteration in relation to the holding of local elections to Cork City Council and Cork County Council in 2019;
  • other matters consequential on the boundary alteration, including continuance of contracts and legal proceedings, the applicability of development plans, local areas plans and Local Economic and Community Plans, requirements relating to planning applications and development contribution schemes, applicability of bye-laws in the relevant areas, continuation in force of leases, licences, permissions, etc. granted by Cork County Council in respect of the relevant areas, provision for necessary data sharing, and transitional arrangements in relation to valuations for rating purposes;
  • replacing the posts of chief executive of Galway City Council and chief executive of Galway County Council with a single post of ‘chief executive of Galway city council and Galway county council’;
  • the holding of plebiscites on the question of providing by law for directly elected mayors with executive functions for Cork City Council, Limerick City and County Council, Galway City Council and Galway County Council (in anticipation of the merger of those two local authorities in 2021) and Waterford City and County Council at the same time as the Local Government Elections in May 2019; and
  • the amending of certain enactments.

It had been hoped to enact this legislation this year to enable all necessary action to be completed in time for the local elections in mid-2019.  While enactment will not now be possible until after the Christmas recess, it should still be possible to complete the process and commence the necessary provisions in sufficient time to meet the specified dates for the publication and coming into effect of the Cork local authority registers of electors.  If not, there may be a need for a “special difficulty order” under the 1992 Electoral Act.

While the boundary alteration and transfer of local authority jurisdiction will take full legal effect in mid-2019, the legislation provides appropriate flexibility in relation to operational arrangements so that transfer of practical responsibility for certain functions can proceed on a more gradual basis, if necessary, to allow time for organisational changes to be completed.  However, it Is expected that the transfer arrangements will proceed quickly once the legislation is enacted and that this will not be a drawn-out process.  Responsibility for the detailed planning and implementation of the reorganisation involved will rest primarily with the local authorities, subject to guidance and oversight by the Oversight Committee and compliance with the Implementation Plan.  In the Dáil I acknowledged the enormous work that the Cork Implementation Oversight Group, along with the two Chief Executives and key members of their teams, have put into teasing out the various implications and arrangements that this boundary change entails and I would like to reiterate that acknowledgement here.

As mentioned, as well as the provisions implementing the Cork boundary alteration, the Bill, in line with the Government decision in principle to merge the two Galway local authorities by 2021 as recommended by the Expert Advisory Group chaired by Professor Eoin O’Sullivan, also provides for the appointment of a single chief executive with dual responsibility for both Galway City and Galway County Councils, who will be empowered to implement administrative integration through delegation of executive functions under the Local Government Acts.  This approach to the management arrangements was put in place in Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford ahead of the mergers of Councils in those areas and worked very well.  Two separate elected councils are being retained for the 2019 local elections but, in anticipation of the merger by 2021, the plebiscite in Galway city and Galway county provided for in Part 6 of the Bill will be on the question of a directly elected mayor covering both the city and the county.

As mentioned, the Bill also contains provisions to copper-fasten the status of cities and counties by repealing the existing power to alter boundaries by Ministerial Order, save where agreed by the relevant local authorities.

I will now go through the main provisions of the Bill in detail.  The Bill is set out in 7 Parts made up of 49 sections with an associated Schedule.  Part 1 contains standard provisions dealing with title, collective citations and commencement.  It also provides for interpretation of key terms, regulations, orders and directions as well as a technical provision for expenses. 

Part 2 alters the boundary between the county and city of Cork as indicated on the deposited map with effect from the day that is appointed by the Minister (intended to be a week after the local elections are held in mid-2019 when the new councils take office).  The Part goes on to deal with a number of consequential matters, including the transfer of staff, land and buildings and property other than land, the transfer of rights and responsibilities, the continuation of leases, licences and permissions, and the preparation of maps of the new local authority administrative areas that will apply after the transfer day. 

Any land and buildings in the transferring area owned by the County Council will automatically vest in the City Council with effect from the transfer day, apart from any exceptions or later applicable dates that might be agreed between the two local authorities before that day. 

When it comes to staff and non-land property, the two local authorities will need to jointly agree and designate the property and the staff numbers and grades that should transfer.  The usual safeguarding of employment terms and conditions will apply to the transferring staff of the County Council. 

All rights and liabilities attaching to anything that transfers to the City Council will automatically also transfer.  There are also provisions to establish the Cork Boundary Alteration Oversight Committee to assist the two councils in performing their functions under the legislation and a key part of this will be an Implementation Plan that the Committee will be required to prepare. 

The final sections in this Part deal with arrangements between the two authorities for the performance of functions in the transferring area and the obligations on the Councils and their staff to facilitate compliance with the legislation. 

Part 3 deals with the financial arrangements arising out of the boundary alteration that will require to be made by the two authorities relating to annual payments for a period of ten years from the City Council to the County Council, a payment in respect of 2019 from the County Council to the City Council and periodic contributions from one authority to the authority on foot of specific costs arising from the boundary change.  The calculation of the annual payments is to be based on the difference between the income generated from the transferring area and the expenditure incurred by the County Council on that area using 2017 as the base year, with an adjustment for changes in the value of money each year, as outlined in the implementation plan.   There is provision for the Minister extending the 10 year period by order following a request to do so that is accompanied by a statement of reasons made by the County Council, referral of the request to the City Council and consideration of any representations that the City Council might make.  

Part 4 contains other consequential provisions, such as data sharing, which requires the County Council to give the City Council all the information, including personal information, which the City Council might require for the purpose of performing functions in relation to the relevant area. 

For the local financial year 2019, the Bill provides that the relevant area remains part of the rating area of the County Council until 31 December 2019 and the County Council’s budget and the Municipal Districts’ schedules of works for 2019 continue to apply for the rest of the year as if the boundary alteration had not happened.  The City Council will, however, during 2019 set the municipal rate and decide any variation in the local property tax rate for 2020.  This means that the basis on which the 2019 budgets were prepared will remain valid for the year. 

The Bill provides that the registers of electors to be used by the two Cork authorities for the 2019 elections will be based on the post boundary alteration position, so that the electors in the relevant areas can participate in the election of the Councillors that will represent them when the boundary changes a week after the election.  Interim polling district and polling place arrangements to cater for the new administrative areas are also provided for.   

Development Plans, Local Area Plans and Local Economic and Community Plans relating to the relevant area will continue to apply after the transfer day until such time as Cork City Council makes replacement plans or variations.  

When it comes to planning, the Bill provides that the County Council will complete any planning enforcement proceedings commenced before the transfer day and conclude to a decision to grant or refuse permission any planning application cases already underway at that time, while the City Council will be responsible for all other planning functions.  The City Council’s development contribution schemes will apply to the relevant area and the transferred development contributions applicable to infrastructure projects in the relevant area will continue to be ring-fenced for infrastructure and facilities in that area. 

The remainder of this Part provides for the interim continued applicability of any rules, regulations or by-laws applicable to the relevant area, together with a general saver for acts and instruments done before the transfer day and for arrears of rates, rents and housing loan repayments, as well as all the 2019 liability, continuing to be collectible by the County Council unless the two authorities agree otherwise. 

Part 5 deals with amendments to the Local Government Acts of 2001 and 1991, to the Planning and Development Act 2000 that will enable the Minister to extend the time limit within which the Cork local authorities must prepare their new development plans and an amendment to the Valuation Act that will mean the City Council will not be able to request a revaluation of the transferred properties on the basis of the boundary alteration.  The 2001 Act amendments are consequential to the boundary alteration and the amendments to Part V of the 1991 Act are to provide that future boundary alterations can be effected by Ministerial order only where the local authorities concerned are in agreement.  This will mean that boundary alterations in future will require to be effected through primary legislation where the change is not something that the two authorities agree should happen.  However, where they are in complete agreement about the need for a change to the boundary, the quick and simple procedure for effecting the change by way of an order under the 1991 Act will continue to be available.  I had hoped to include within the Bill provisions for joint structures to facilitate local area planning for urban areas that span county boundaries to provide an alternative way of ensuring the appropriate future development of towns and cities that straddle two local authority areas without changing the local authority boundaries.  Deputies wanted those provisions to be given further consideration so they have been removed from this Bill and will be the subject of another Bill early next year.

Part 6 provides for the holding of plebiscites in Cork City, Galway City and Galway County, Limerick City and County and Waterford City and County on a proposal to provide by law for a directly elected mayor of those administrative areas on a date appointed by the Minister (intended to be the May 2019 date of the local elections).  The plebiscites are to be conducted in accordance with regulations that will contain the usual provisions in relation to the form and wording of the ballot paper, the arrangements and requirements relating to the information to be published and distributed to the voters, the appointment, duties and staff of the returning officer and the taking of the poll, voting and counting of votes, electoral offences, etc. and will require to be approved by resolution of the Oireachtas.  The persons entitled to vote in the plebiscites will be those entitled to vote at local elections for Cork City Council (including those being transferred next year from the county to the city), Galway City Council, Galway County Council, Limerick City and County Council and Waterford City and County Council.  Information for voters, which is to be published and distributed by the relevant local authority at least 30 days before the voting day, is to include a summary of the functions and office of directly elected executive mayors for the local authorities concerned, the impact on the relevant local authorities, relationships between the offices of directly elected mayor and those local authorities and with other relevant bodies, the estimated cost and resource implications, the possible advantages and disadvantages associated with the proposal, any impact for the functions of any other body and any other information the Minister considers appropriate.

Finally, Part 7 of the Bill contains the amendment to the Local Government Act 2001 to provide for a single chief executive with dual responsibility for Galway City Council and Galway County Council that I mentioned earlier.  It also contains two miscellaneous technical provisions one of which restates in both Irish and English the amendment made to section 32(2) of the Official Languages Act 2003 by section 49 of the Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011 that should have been made bilingually at that time and the other corrects the title of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland used in the Building Control Act 2007.

I commend the Bill to the House.

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